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Auditor-General's PGP report "too polite" says Labour's O'Connor

The Auditor-General's review of the government's $680 million primary growth partnership has come under scrutiny from the select committee which commissioned it, with Labour MP Damien O'Connor criticising it as "too polite".

The Office of the Auditor-General present the reported, which came out last month, to the primary production select committee today, and it gave O'Connnor, who has been critical of the scheme in the past, another chance to have a go.

The review into the Ministry of Primary Industries management of the programme, launched in 2009 and intended to lift investment in innovation and economic growth in the primary sector, was commissioned by the select committee, with a particular focus on the transparency of funding and the government agency's management of it.

The government and industry partners had committed some $680 million to the scheme, with the crown promising $322 million to 18 programmes, of which $129.5 million had been spent at Nov. 30. Labour has claimed conflicts of interest in the scheme , including among the investment advisory panel members, during the funding of projects.

Assistant Auditor-General Mike Scott told the select committee the review looked at how the MPI had managed funds allocation in the early stage and found there was "some looseness" in the early stages. O'Connor was more strident, saying "under resourced, chaotic, and arbitrary would be the accurate way of summarising your report".

On the issue of conflicts of interest, the review found the ministry did not have enough staff and resources during early funding round and the assessment process was loosely defined by cabinet and open to interpretation. The review found the investment advisory panels decisions were stated clearly, however the ministry did not "always clearly and comprehensively record the reasons for the IAP's decisions".

"PGP got off to a mixed start and initially encountered a number of challenges," Controller and Auditor-General Lyn Provost wrote in the review. "PGP partnerships are now generally working well and the management of them has improved in the past five years. More is required, in particular, to achieve clear, simple, and understandable public reporting on individual programmes and the PGP portfolio."

The Auditor-General said public reporting of the programme start "late and, to date, has not been suitable for a public audience because it is inconsistent and too technical". Improvements to public reporting would aid transparency and accountability, Provost said.

The review made three recommendations to MPI, including improving the initiative's investment advisory panel's documentation of its decision making process, ensuring that funded projects would have quantifiable long-term economic benefits and improving public reporting of the scheme and its progress.