Conflict of interest a real pearler

Saturday December 19, 2015 Written by Published in Local

The Cook Islands Pearl Authority has made a fashion faux pas, failing to follow the proper tendering process by awarding $70,000 to a local marketing company whose director was related to someone advising the government agency.

The Public Expenditure Review Committee (PERC) headed by Geoff Stoddart has given a slap on the wrist to Cook Islands Pearl Authority (CIPA) chief executive George Ellis who committed $70,000 to Stan Wolfgramm of Drum Productions Limited, trading as Style Pasifika Collection for a one-year marketing contract.

Under the partnership arrangement, Style Pasifika would exclusively use Avaiki Cook Islands pearls, as well as offering matched jewellery accessories.

But Wolfgramm is the brother of Alexis Wolfgramm, the head of a local marketing advisory group engaged by CIPA, resulting in a clear conflict of interest. “…There is a perceived or alternatively a real conflict of interest in the close family relationship of the person advising CIPA (Alexis) and the service provider (Stan),” said Stoddart in the PERC report.

The purchase of goods or services greater than $30,000 by a department or agency is required to go through a public tendering process.

Stoddart said the contract did not meet any of the requirements of the government policies and procedures.

“…There remains risk that with the marketing for a one year period only, that further funding may be requested to continue what has been started.”

Stoddart recommended that Minister of the Cook Islands Pearl Authority Mark Brown and former Financial Secretary Richard Neves should note the failures and the higher standards expected of the chief executive of CIPA.

The board of CIPA was also asked to take the failings into account in the next performance review of chief executive George Ellis, and make an analysis of the benefits achieved through the marketing contract with Drum Productions Ltd by May next year.

But Brown did not hesitate to bring up the incident in parliament earlier this week, saying $70,000 had been given to a member of the Democratic Party’s campaigning team – referring to Alexis Wolfgramm.

Democratic Party Finance spokesman James Beer said Wolfgramm had “quite a story to tell” and his party would be asking for a privileges committee to be set up to investigate an abuse of privilege by Brown.

CI News has been told PERC chairman Geoff Stoddart did not respond to Wolfgramm’s emails asking to correct an error in the report.

Last month CI News was asked by Ellis to run a media release about the CIPA collaboration with Style Pasifika– after the PERC report was completed in September.

The release, which was accompanied by low quality digital photographs, said that from CIPA’s point of view, the partnership provided a great opportunity to leverage the exposure of Avaiki Cook Islands Pearls globally and to position its premium pearls at the high end of the international jewellery market.

Leave a comment