Disillusioned AgResearch staff are saying the
organisation is ''haemorrhaging'' scientists because of its
restructuring plan, an agribusiness academic says.
Waikato University's Prof Jacqueline Rowarth made the
comments after calling for an ''independent review'' of
AgResearch's $100 million Future Footprint plan over
conflicts of interest among members of its board.
Too many AgResearch board members were part of organisations
which had an interest in the restructuring, some of which
were set to benefit from it, Prof Rowarth said.
An AgResearch spokesman rejected Prof Rowarth's comments and
Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce said he was
against an independent review.
Prof Rowarth said AgResearch staff she had spoken to were not
happy with the organisation's direction.
''What I see is people at airports and they say `we are just
losing people right left and centre' or we are
The situation warranted an independent review, which she
already felt was necessary because of conflicts of interest
for members of AgResearch's board.
An example was Andrew Macfarlane, who was a member of Lincoln
University's council and Deer NZ.
The financially struggling university stands to be a big
winner from restructuring and the creation of a Lincoln hub.
''There are too many tangled webs in the decision-making
process ... if one starts looking at Lincoln's tentacles,
they are all over it,'' she said.
It was not enough to declare potential conflicts and then go
ahead with ''business as usual''.
The National Business Review article in which Prof Rowarth
first called for an independent review threw up another
potential conflict among AgResearch directors, with chairman
Sam Robinson a board member of AsureQuality when the
restructuring plan was completed. He stood down in October
The biosecurity service has one of its two New Zealand-based
PestLabs based in Lincoln.
The links to Lincoln University also included vice-chancellor
Andy West, the previous chief executive of AgResearch, who
stepped down in 2010.
Prof Rowarth said the potential for conflicts of interest
spread to industry levy boards - Deer Industry NZ and Dairy
NZ - of which AgResearch directors were members.
These organisations were not speaking out against
AgResearch's plan, despite concerns among farmers who paid
An AgResearch spokesman, when asked whether it was open to an
independent review, said its process had been thorough.
''The business case was reviewed by the Ministry for Business
Innovation and Employment, it was endorsed by the Treasury,
and reviewed by PWC, who reported that it was a sound and
robust plan that met the Government's Better Business Cases
guidelines,'' he said.
There were no motivations apart from the improvement of
The organisation was not 'haemorrhaging'' staff and
''voluntary'' staff turnover rates were at normal levels.
''Staff retention is very important to us and ... we are
committed to supporting them through this transition.''
Mr Joyce had ''no concerns'' over conflict of interest on the
''I am confident that the parties involved are focused on
achieving the best possible research outcomes for the
He was monitoring the process closely and had been told staff
turnover was at normal levels.
Meanwhile, Dunedin North MP David Clark said an internal
AgResearch timeline showed its restructuring plans were
''slipping'' further behind schedule.
The timeline, supplied to the Otago Daily Times under
the Official Information Act, showed AgResearch was ''not yet
started'' on some targets, including the purchase of a
Lincoln site due to be completed next month.
This was ''indicative'' of a wider failure of AgResearch's
governance, Dr Clark said.
An AgResearch spokesman said it was happy with progress.
''The project is on schedule. It is a long and complex
project and some dates within it will move around,'' he said.
Dr West declined a request for comment.