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No winners in blame game

In keeping with an age-old tradition, an incoming government blames anything and everything it possibly can on the previous government.

It doesn’t really matter what it is, it is absolutely 100 per cent their fault, they will say. Furthermore, just have a look at the awful mess they’ve left behind, the new administration will cry. It is a political tradition that dates back to before any of us were born and will likely continue long after many of us have gone.

This rather transparent ploy lasts only so long, however. It will take maybe just a few months before we hear noise from the other side of the house attempting to turn the tables and claim the new government has had long enough in the driver’s seat to get things done and to stop blaming everything on everyone else.

Not so fast.

It has transpired this week that two of the former government’s massive infrastructure programmes, totalling the not-insubstantial sum of $15 billion, were rushed through against the advice of officials – leading to chaotic, costly blowouts just months after they were first announced.

A little over a year after the high-profile unveiling of the first projects, the government had to stump up $1.9b in extra funding to keep them on track. Some projects, such as an Auckland expressway, had to be culled entirely after doubling in cost in just 12 months.

A report by Auditor-General John Ryan into the previous government’s NZ Upgrade Programme and the Shovel-Ready Projects, often abbreviated to NZUP and SRP, was tabled in the House this week.

It doesn’t make for an easy read.

NZUP was originally given $12b and SRP was given $3b. The NZUP funded the Penlink, Mill Rd, and Ōtaki to North of Levin expressways, as well as the Melling interchange and a number of hospital and school upgrades. Both projects date back to when Labour was in office with the Greens and NZ First. That’s right, NZ First.

Ryan found that ministers received ample warning from officials before the NZUP projects were announced that some would struggle to be delivered on time and on budget. Indeed, the NZUP projects have gone over budget multiple times. Treasury warned before the October election that many of the projects were still at an “early stage” and had an “ongoing risk further funding may be required to deliver the programme”. Those warnings appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

NZUP dates back to early 2020, before the pandemic and after the government received briefings in 2019 that the economy was likely to experience a slowdown. Ministers were warned of the risks by officials and Te Waihanga, the newly created NZ Infrastructure Commission. Te Waihanga even warned that the whole point of the two programmes – to stimulate the economy – would probably not be achieved by building infrastructure.

Ryan found that the then government appeared to be in a rush to announce the projects, and the report tabled this week was particularly critical of the lack of planning. It also said that, in some cases, key agencies only found out about NZUP through the media. Shocking, but true.

It may take some time before the new opposition hears the end of the A-G’s latest report.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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