OAG decision to not investigate Katherine Rich disappointing

The Office of Auditor General’s (OAG) decision to not investigate Katherine Rich’s potential conflict on the board of the Health Promotion Agency (HPA) has revealed glaring holes in accountability over political appointments to Government agencies, the Green Party says.

The Office of Auditor General’s (OAG) decision to not investigate Katherine Rich’s potential conflict on the board of the Health Promotion Agency (HPA) has revealed glaring holes in accountability over political appointments to Government agencies, the Green Party says.

The Green Party, and members of the public, had complained to the OAG after documents released under the Official Information Act showed that Ms Rich had not declared any conflicts of interest on the agenda items, on the board of the HPA, that conflicted directly with her role as the chief executive of the Food and Grocery Council.

“Though I’m disappointed that the OAG did not investigate these complaints, its decision highlights the urgent need for better rules to ensure that Government appointees are not acting in their own, or their employer’s interests when appointed to Government agencies.

“Ms Rich’s day job is to maximise consumption of unhealthy food, alcohol and tobacco whereas the HPA’s job is to minimise it.

“There is a fundamental conflict in Ms Rich’s two roles, but the problem is that the management of her conflict is left to her, and to the chair of the HPA, who is also a political appointment.

“Very serious concerns have been raised about Mrs Rich’s conflicts including by health researchers, who’ve been the subject of aggressive PR campaigns by the junk food, alcohol and tobacco lobbies.

“But efforts by me and others to get answers have been blocked all the way, including by the Minister who refused to ask the State Services Commission to investigate.

“The current process of dealing with conflicts of interest relies almost entirely on Ms Rich and the Chair - both political appointees managing it; or the Minister who appointed them, triggering the State Services Commission to investigate.

“If the system is going to allow for political appointments, there needs to be better, clearer guidelines about what constitutes a conflict and what is appropriate management of it.

“Without that, the public has no guarantee that the HPA is managing Ms Rich’s conflicts.

“I remain concerned that the OAG has taken five months to decide not to investigate and yet, as far as I am aware, none of those raising concerns were consulted.

“Ideally this is an issue for the State Services Commission; however they are unable to investigate unless asked to by the Minister.

“Given the level of concern by the public, the opposition and the public health sector, I’m asking the Minister to reconsider his earlier decision and ask the State Services Commission to investigate,” Mr Hague said.

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