'That money could be used for those in greater need'

Christchurch philanthropists Grant and Marilyn Nelson. Photo: Supplied
Christchurch philanthropists Grant and Marilyn Nelson. Photo: Supplied
A former Christchurch businessman turned philanthropist estimates $5 billion has been paid out in wage subsidies to companies that do not need it.

Grant Nelson and his wife Marilyn run the Gama Foundation, which hands out the money they made after selling their business.

It has donated more than $50 million over the years and receives no donations. Over the years the foundation has given millions of dollars to conservation, research, disability, and educational causes, including $50,000 recently to Professor Michael Baker for his work on Covid-19.

Mr Nelson says companies that made more profit last year than they did in 2019 should repay their wage subsidies immediately.

He told RNZ Checkpoint reporter Nita Blake-Persen the government needs to take a more proactive approach in encouraging companies to do that.

"There have been some random audits but not nearly enough, because there were 760,000 recipients of the wage subsidy. So any audits they do are reaching very few of those who received the wage subsidy.

"That is why I think everyone who received the wage subsidy should be contacted. Then if they can prove they were entitled to it then they can retain it. Otherwise they should be repaying it.

"I could see it was open to abuse and that has been the problem. It has been abused by those who didn't really need it ... most businesses could have got through the (lockdown) without the wage subsidy.

"So, yes, it did help at the time, but I think now that we can see the big picture of what has happened last year, then businesses who didn't really need the wage subsidy should be repaying it."

Mr Nelson estimated $5 billion has been paid out in wage subsidies to companies that do not necessarily need it.  And he is calling on businesses that have made profits over the past year to "act more ethically" and "repay the subsidy".

"Then that money could be used for those who are in greater need."

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