''Electioneering nonsense'' is how Health Minister Tony
Ryall describes a call for scrutiny of his actions over the
South Link Health funds dispute.
Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague said Mr Ryall's
handling of the issue should be included in a Royal
commission of inquiry into Cabinet ministers' behaviour.
The inquiry should consider ''why Southern DHB didn't act
sooner and the Ministry [of Health] barely acted at all''.
The Ministry of Health was asked to investigate the
multimillion-dollar Southern health funds dispute in December
Last week, following advice from forensic investigators hired
by the DHB in February, the Southern board referred the
dispute to the Serious Fraud Office.
The dispute is over the spending of about $5.3 million in
savings (now believed to be about $15 million with interest)
SLH achieved on contracts with South Island district health
boards in the 1990s.
South Link Health rejects any suggestion of fraud, saying it
spent the money on approved programmes and has no case to
answer, commercially or criminally.
Earlier this year Mr Hague, a former West Coast DHB chief
executive who has been closely following the dispute, alleged
the ministry had not really done anything, because Mr Ryall
did not want it to.
He alleged this was also the reason the DHB had not
complained to the police or the SFO previously, or pursued
He said he could not prove that at the time, and accepted it
was denied, but ''no convincing explanations'' for the
inaction were given.
''I think we have to consider the ministry's strangely slow
and half-hearted response to the matter being referred to
them against the backdrop that has been revealed over recent
''Tony Ryall's friend and parliamentary next-door neighbour
Judith Collins stands accused of exactly this kind of
inappropriate boundary-crossing, and many believe this to be
endemic in the National Government.''
An inquiry should not be restricted to the behaviour of Mrs
Collins, he said.
Its scope had to be broad enough to ''probe the wider culture
of unethical behaviour by Cabinet ministers''.
Mr Ryall did not answer questions about whether he had
concerns about the Ministry of Health's failure to
investigate the dispute when asked to do so by the DHB in
2010, or if there would be any review of the ministry's
His office said because the matter was before the SFO, he had
nothing further to add.
The State Services Commission, asked whether there was a need
for review of the ministry's actions, said it was ''unable to
comment, as this matter has been referred to the Serious
Fraud Office and may be the subject of an investigation''.
The office of the Auditor-general, which was alerted to
concerns about the ministry's apparent inaction over the
dispute last year by DHB member and former Otago DHB chairman
Richard Thomson, also had no comment on the review question.
In its report to the DHB last October, Audit New Zealand said
the board should refer the dispute to the police if it
considered there was evidence of fraud. If it did not
consider there was fraud, it should reach an agreement with
South Link Health on ''future actions'', the office advised.
The Ministry of Health this week avoided answering when asked
whether there would be a review of its handling of the
The acting director of the National Health Board, Michael
Hundleby, said ''after being referred the commercial dispute,
the National Health Board agreed to join mediations with
South Link Health and Southern District Health Board to work
with both sides to come together and resolve this matter''.
Former Southern DHB chief executive Brian Rousseau, who
released some emails related to the dispute earlier this year
because he was concerned about the accuracy of statements
being made about the knowledge of the possibility of fraud,
said he did not wish to comment on the referral of the
dispute to the SFO.
Former board chairman Errol Millar said he was pleased the
dispute was going to be investigated.
The matter had gone on ''far too damned long''.
It is not clear how long any investigation might take.
At this stage, the SFO said it could only confirm the