Phil Twyford repeatedly ‘forgot’ key NZTA job offer, until he couldn’t
Minister of Transport Phil Twyford has said repeatedly that the former board of the New Zealand Transport Agency – with which he had a fractious relationship – did not wish to be reappointed and that the replacement of all but one of the board members last month was due to the board’s term ending.
But now sources have confirmed to Stuff that this was in fact not the case and that some board members did ask to be reappointed, raising questions over whether Twyford misled Parliament.
Last week, Twyford was asked in Parliament by National Party Transport spokesman Chris Bishop whether he would “stand by his statement that no one on the New Zealand Transport Agency board asked to stay on?”
Twyford responded, “Yes, I do”.
In response to questions from Stuff, Twyford has now changed his story.
“When the Minister answered Chris Bishop’s question in the House – which was a supplementary question not on notice – his recollection was that no one had offered to stay on”, a spokeswoman for Twyford said.
“He [Twyford] remembered that he had asked Mark Darrow [a former board member] to stay on the board temporarily in the interests of continuity” the spokeswoman said.
“The Minister has now had a chance to review his correspondence from May and see that, in response to his request, Mark Darrow had said he would be interested in staying on for a second term”.
“The Minister will correct the answer in the House at the first opportunity'” the spokeswoman said.
But sources told Stuff that other board members were also approached about being reappointed.
Twyford’s spokeswoman hung up the phone when asked why Darrow wasn’t reappointed if Twyford had asked him, and he wanted to be on the NZTA board.
Twyford’s recollection on the matter has repeatedly failed him on this point. He also confirmed to Stuff in September that no one on the board expressed a preference to stay on. Asked whether any board members asked or wanted to stay on, Twyford said on September 19 that, “no, everyone had reached the end of their terms”.
Twyford had said the board was “refreshed and refocused” in September when he announced that all bar one of its previous members would be leaving the board.
The revelation comes after several damaging leaks published in Stuff showed a massive falling out between Twyford and his former board over the Auckland light rail project.
The Government had initially wanted NZTA to build the multi-billion dollar project, but apparently soured on the idea after the NZ Super Fund made an unsolicited bid to build the project itself.
NZTA thought the bid was “vague” and lacked merit, and pushed on with its own plans, which Twyford put a stop to nearly a year later.
Leaked letters from the former NZTA board show board members’ frustration that Twyford appeared to blame the lack of progress for light rail on the NZTA. The board alleges that it was Twyford’s indecision that delayed the project.
Sir Brian Roche, the current chair of NZTA and the only member of the old board still at NZTA, went in to bat for the minister last week, saying the Agency “dropped the ball”.
It also appears Twyford has struggled to fill the board with new appointees. David Smol was among those who left the board in August, but the agency’s website still lists him as a board member.
At the time of the board ructions, Twyford was only able to fill five of the seven vacancies opened by the former members. It appears Smol may have now filled one of the two vacancies leaving one remaining.
Bishop said Twyford had “serious questions to answer”.
“He is on the record in Parliament saying that nobody on the New Zealand Transport Agency board asked to stay on the board, and he’s now being contradicted by multiple people and has serious questions to answer,” Bishop said.