By: Natalie Akoorie and Frances Cook

Video: The spending of public money by former Waikato DHB chief executive Dr Nigel Murray has been referred to the Serious Fraud Office after an investigation found more than half his claims for travel and accommodation were unjustified.

One of the men being held accountable for Dr Nigel Murray’s excessive spending says the former Waikato District Health Board chief led a double life and misrepresented expenses claims.

Former DHB chairman Bob Simcock, who resigned over the debacle on November 28, has lambasted the State Services Commission inquiry into Murray’s expenses, saying it failed to “properly identify root causes and instead produced a report which is a scattergun of blame”.

“Unfortunately I am being held up as a scapegoat for some of what Dr Murray did, when it is now clear he led a double life,” said Simcock, a former National MP.

“There was so much dishonesty surrounding Dr Murray that even with professional advice and checking, he was still able to hide his behaviour.”

Simcock addressed the three areas of focus by the State Services Commission inquiry, the findings of which were announced this morning by Commissioner Peter Hughes and the man who led the inquiry, John Ombler.

Simcock said in regard to Murray’s expenses all of those that he authorised were “justified as business related”.

“The report has not identified a single example of an expense that I authorised that was not for a justified business purpose as required by the Office of the Auditor-General guidelines.

“The Waikato DHB paid out unauthorised expenses to Dr Murray without my knowledge.”

He blamed Murray for misrepresenting expense claims and receiving money for them.

Simcock was warned by several parties not to hire Murray in mid-2014 because of his leadership style and the report said Simcock failed to check with Murray’s most recent previous employer at the time, the chair of Fraser Health Authority in Canada, for references.

But Simcock said it was now clear crucial information was withheld by people who were interviewed as part of the reference checks on Murray.

“This includes the fact that Dr Murray had already been dismissed from his position at Fraser Health in Canada when reference checks were made with the most senior health official in British Colombia.

“It is inconceivable to believe that they didn’t know Dr Murray had been dismissed, yet this information was never passed on. In hindsight it was a mistake not to check with Dr Murray’s direct employer at the time.

“The reason this decision was made was because the new chair at Fraser Health had only been in the job a matter of weeks. We did not realise that in that short time he had dismissed Dr Murray.”

When the Herald spoke to the Fraser Health board chair from that time, Wynne Powell, who is no longer in the position, he said it took 12 months to clean up Fraser Health after Murray left following a damning British Columbia Government-ordered review into the authority, which found it to be the worst performing in Canada.

That review was released in Canada before Murray was hired by Waikato DHB, however Powell told the Herald Murray left on his own accord, citing family reasons for wanting to return to New Zealand.

Simcock said he was also extremely disappointed to receive criticism from the State Services Commission inquiry for accepting Murray’s resignation and not dismissing him.

“The inquiry says Dr Murray should have instead been held to account through dismissal and DHB disciplinary procedure.

“I, and the DHB board, took legal advice from a law firm recommended by the Ministry of Health. This legal advice was to accept his resignation. I am still hopeful Dr Murray will be held accountable for his actions as a result of other investigations.”

Nigel Murray’s response to inquiry

In a letter from Murray’s lawyer Peter Cullen to inquiry head John Ombler, Murray said he believed the investigation into him was “unfair” and “seriously flawed”.

“As you will be aware, from the outset we have raised and continue to raise serious concerns about [inquiry head] Mr Ombler’s decision not to provide Dr Murray with copies of the information and documents that he has obtained in the course of his investigation and which are relevant to the terms of reference in so far as they relate to Dr Murray.

“We simply do not understand why Mr Ombler has chosen to deny Dr Murray access to this information.

“Disclosure has been at best token.”

Murray’s lawyer said they had made a complaint to the Privacy Commission about the lack of documents provided to them about the investigation.

“It is our advice to Dr Murray that the processes of the SSC investigation are not fair and are, in our view, not lawful.

“Dr Murray has accepted that advice, and for that reason believes that participating in this investigation at this stage will place him in unknown jeopardy.”

The investigation documents included a reply to Murray’s lawyers, saying he had been given “extensive” information.

Source: NZ Herald

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