Wintec is launching an independent peer review of a 2015 investigation into a complaint and allegations relating to its chief executive.

Wintec Chief executive Mark Flowers. Photo / Alan Gibson

The review comes after Wintec Council chairman Barry Harris told the Herald earlier this month that investigations into a complaint about chief executive Mark Flowers was “investigated independently but not upheld”.

“The conclusion of that investigation was that the allegations were unsubstantiated, that they did not stand up to scrutiny, and were based on speculation, not evidence,” Harris had said then.

In a statement today, Harris said Wintec Council retained full confidence in Flowers and his staff, but recognised the effect the current commentary had on public confidence around Wintec’s operations.

“We have proactively instigated these actions, which will take place early next year, to give assurance that Wintec continues to be a responsible, public organisation,” he said.

“We strongly believe we have acted appropriately on the matters to date but for completeness and openness we want these independently looked into.”

Harris said as well as investigating the complaint relating to Flowers, the Council would extend Audit New Zealand’s programmed annual audit of Wintec.

The extension would include assessment into matters raised around expenditure and restructuring costs.

The troubled Waikato tertiary education institute came under scrutiny earlier this year when the Herald revealed it had spent almost $175,000 fighting a media organisation publishing stories about it and its staff, including its chief executive.

The large expenditure, provided to the Herald under the Official Information Act, also made up almost a third of Wintec’s entire legal spending of $590,646 during 2016 and September 2017.

Wintec, also known as Waikato Institute of Technology, employs 950 staff and has 20,000 students.

It hired law firms Bell Gully and Norris Ward McKinnon to prevent Fairfax running stories about it.

Harris was initially was unapologetic about the spending which he said related to a media organisation’s claims involving inaccurate speculation.

It also helped deflect defamatory allegations and statements from disaffected third parties about Wintec and its staff with no evidence supplied, he said at the time.

In the past 10 years Wintec has spent $342,350 on legal advice relating to policy, audit, compliance and regulation and more than half of that in the last two years was on media requests from Fairfax, according an OIA response.

In 2017, $119,504 was spent on policy, audit, compliance and regulation, $64,783 in 2016 and $30,456 in 2015. In 2007, just $622 was spent on legal advice in that area.

During the same 2016 and 20 September 2017 period, Wintec also received and responded to more than 200 questions and requests for information from the media.

This includes those submitted by the Herald both as media and OIA requests to Wintec regarding spending and employment issues.

Source: NZ Herald

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