Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon accepts there are other people who could have leaked his planned resignation to journalists on Friday other than the Prime Minister’s office, which he alleged today.
Foon had intended to resign yesterday after being informed by Ministry of Justice Secretary Andrew Kibblewhite that it was “highly probable” Foon would be removed as commissioner, chiefly for not adequately disclosing the money he received as director of a company that was paid by the Ministry of Social Development to provide emergency housing in Tairāwhiti.
However, Foon’s intended resignation was reported by several media organisations on Friday afternoon, leading Foon to believe the Prime Minister’s office had leaked it to journalists, given he had emailed Chris Hipkins to inform the PM of his decision on Friday morning.
Speaking to the Herald, Foon has walked that claim back slightly, accepting that it was possible the information could have come from other sources, including the Ministry of Justice and close friends he consulted on Friday.
“Yes, I can’t be sure, sure,” he said.
Nevertheless, he stood by his claim as being a possibility. Hipkins will likely field questions on this during his post-Cabinet meeting press conference.
Regardless of how the information got out, Foon’s future is now unclear as Foon believes he hasn’t officially resigned and is expecting a letter from Associate Justice Minister Dr Deborah Russell that adds to her statement on Friday that Foon breached the Crown Entities Act for not adequately declaring his conflict of interest and should be removed.
Russell chose not to comment and referred to the Herald to her Friday statement.
Associate Justice Minister Dr Deborah Russell believed Foon should be removed as race relations commissioner. Photo / Mark Mitchell
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Foon was a director of MY Gold Investments Ltd - a company trading as Tatapouri Bay Accommodation. It received more than $2 million from the Government to provide emergency housing between 2019 and 2023. Foon was appointed Race Relations Commissioner in August, 2019.
Foon was also involved in a Human Rights Commission inquiry and subsequent report on emergency housing, while “never adequately declaring his interest”, according to Russell’s statement.
It followed issues arising from Foon’s donations to Labour’s Kiri Allan before she became Justice Minister and therefore responsible for the Human Rights Commission. Allan hadn’t registered the potential perceived conflict of interest with the Cabinet Office.
On his register of interests, seen by the Herald, which was provided to the Human Rights Commission ahead of his appointment in 2019, Foon listed his position with MY Gold Investments under “Other of Interest” and had written next to it, “MSD Emergency Housing”.
Another document declaring Foon’s interests, required by the Commission, listed MY Gold Investments as an income source for Foon, but it did not feature any mention of the emergency housing funding.
Foon argued his “MSD Emergency Housing” reference in his register of interests was a sufficient declaration.
Foon has also provided evidence that this reference was not carried over by the Human Rights Commission to the conflicts of interest register or the list of board member interests that inform standing agenda items at all meetings.
The commission’s Paul Hunt acknowledged this in a letter on June 9 to Minister Russell. Hunt is expected to speak to the Herald later today to explain why.
Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt. Photo / Supplied
Foon accepted he should have declared his company’s role in providing emergency housing during the commission’s inquiry, but believed he wasn’t not provided with adequate support or training in what was necessary to declare.
“The Human Rights Commission failed in its duty of care,” Foon wrote to Russell on June 7.
On Friday morning, Foon received a call from Kibblewhite, who informed him it was likely Russell would recommend he be removed as Race Relations Commissioner.
Foon opted to resign on Sunday, which was reportedly agreed to by Kibblewhite.
He then emailed Hipkins about 10.30am, saying he would be resigning on Sunday because he “didn’t declare the amount of money MY Gold Investments was receiving from MSD”.
Given the news broke on Friday, Foon has now reconsidered and he expected Russell to follow the other process set out by Kibblewhite on Friday that Russell would provide a more detailed explanation of her view in writing and give Foon another chance to respond.
In light of Minister Michael Wood’s recent conflict of interest scandal, Foon hoped he would be judged fairly and held to the same standard.
Wood was temporarily stripped of the transport portfolio after it was revealed by the Herald he hadn’t properly declared shares he had in Auckland Airport during the time when he was the minister responsible for the aviation sector. Hipkins was yet to advise whether Wood would return as Transport Minister.
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