Nigel Murray spent $100k relocating from Southland

Waikato District Health Board chief executive Dr Nigel Murray. Photo: NZ Herald
Former Waikato District Health Board chief executive Dr Nigel Murray. Photo: NZ Herald
Former Waikato health board chief executive Nigel Murray spent more than $100,000 relocating to a job in Canada in 2007 after leaving his position as chief executive of the now defunct Southland DHB.

Dr Murray resigned from Waikato District Health Board in October last year after he was found to have overspent on relocation costs from Canada to Hamilton by $27,000 and claimed unauthorised expenses.

His spending during three years in the job at Waikato DHB totalled $218,000. The findings of a State Services Commission investigation into the spending will be announced tomorrow.

Murray's CAD$103,502 [NZ$110,000] spend was higher than what was allocated for relocation in his contract as chief executive of Fraser Health Authority in British Columbia.

The information, contained in an audit of Fraser Health Authority's senior managers' pay and expenses and conducted by KPMG in October 2014, was released today in a Canadian Freedom of Information response obtained by the Herald.

The relocation costs he claimed from Fraser Health Authority included:

• $18,869 to sell his old house in New Zealand;

• $14,653 to move personal affects to Canada;

• $20,821 travelling costs for he and his family to move to Canada;

• $23,717 for temporary living expenses including $13,324 in temporary rental accommodation;

• $25,145 for "miscellaneous" costs;

• And $296 for drivers' permits.

Murray also claimed $5000 for one month's hotel accommodation prior to leaving New Zealand, stopped in Hawaii for four days with his family on the way over and claimed rental costs for two cars for two months on arrival.

Another $4000 was claimed for costs related to obtaining permanent residency including medical exams, criminal record checks and passport photos.

The auditors said Murray's employment contract allowed for $CAD40,000 for relocation including $15,000 for temporary rental accommodation in the first three months, and reimbursement of other "reasonable" expenses.

All of the costs were approved by a board of directors at Fraser Health, where Murray had undertaken some consulting before departing his job as chief executive of the then Southland DHB.

The audit, which covered five years of Murray's seven-year stint at Fraser, also found he was entitled to and claimed a $500 monthly car allowance while also claiming $18,000 in mileage despite mileage not being referenced in his employment contract.

There were 22 instances amounting to more than $1600 related to the purchase of electronic accessories that were reimbursed to management, even though the authority's policy required no computer, hardware or software purchases.

Some of the items included Bose headphones, Apple products, an iTunes card and keyboards.

"The majority of these claims were associated with Dr Murray," the report said.

Meal expenses claims by Murray and his senior leadership team often exceeded the $52 per day entitlement and there were more than 200 claims that did not identify the names of people present, preventing the auditors from assessing whether there were non-Fraser employees at the meals.

In more than 400 instances, costing at least $22,000, meal expenses were either not supported by an itemised receipt or failed to have a written explanation of the business purpose or the people attending.

Auditors could not determine if alcohol had been purchased as part of those meals.

"We found that these expenses were approved 'on exception' by Dr Murray or another member of management."

Expenses with missing receipts for Murray were approved by the then board chairman.

Unusual practices were also found around salary increases in Murray's management team including salary increases paid twice a year.

And following a pay freeze ordered by the British Columbia Government in 2012 for all healthcare workers, Murray conducted a "realignment" of his executive team which meant four of the 12 members received pay increases between $5000 and $18,000 to reflect their extra responsibilities.

Murray, who was the highest-paid health region CEO in British Columbia on CA$444,000 when he left Canada in mid-2014, did not get a pay rise but received his $30,000 annual performance bonus every year.

Murray left Canada weeks after a damning British Columbia Government-ordered review found Fraser Health to be the worst performing authority in the country.

The Herald asked the British Columbia Government and Fraser Health Authority last year whether either would open an investigation into Murray's spending after breaches were found by Waikato DHB. They both said it was "personal" issue and they could not comment.

Today Fraser Health told The Abbotsford News in Canada that following the audit the authority tightened up its expense rules and that detailed receipts were now required.

Murray's local expense receipts, made public by Waikato DHB in November, show the $52,000 he spent relocating to New Zealand included six months of taxpayer-funded accommodation at a Hamilton hotel with another adult.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell, who warned board chairman Bob Simcock not to hire Murray over his leadership style, was stunned by the audit.

"It really is extraordinary. It really is taking the high life on the taxpayers' expense to a very high level."

Waikato DHB interim chief executive Derek Wright said the DHB did not know about Murray's Canadian expenses and would not comment further.

Questions to Simcock asking whether he was notified of the audit in 2014 remain unanswered.

Comments

I must admit that I'm getting a tad annoyed about this, as well as many other cases, where supposedly honest, reliable and respected people get a put into positions of "power", e.g. CEO's and other top tier of both private and government, who not only get an "exorbitant" pay packages together with absolutely ridiculous "exit" packages ... and still feel it is their right to "rip the system off" for as much as they can. In this case, it would seem that there has been a little bit of "miss appropriation" of funds (taxpayers’ money) and as far as I'm aware, that is a criminal offence. From my limited studies in law, there are two very important facts ... "nobody is above the law" and "ignorance (of the law) is not a defence. The people who are arrogant enough to line their own pockets should be treated the same as any other criminal, or hasher give the position of trust they've held and not just a slap over the hand with a wet bus ticket or home detention... seize their assets to repay the money they’ve taken and stick them in Mount Eden prison ... a year for every $10,000 they've miss appropriated (stolen) from the NZ taxpayer.