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Tini saga spirals

Wednesday 24 February 2010 | Published in Regional

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During the course of an audit investigation that began six months ago, suspended Cook Islands Investment Corporation CEO John Tini has been accused of nepotism and labelled autocratic, controlling, and deceitful.

CI News confirmed with CIIC board chairman Tapi Taio last week that Tini’s suspension with full pay lasted until December – since then he has been on suspension without pay but has claimed holiday pay owed to him.

Taio told CI News that the board is considering Tini’s termination but ongoing investigations and arbitration have left the agency with little choice but to hold off.

Leaked CIIC documents reveal that the audit report on Tini’s management performance completed in November last year found some serious concerns in the way he managed the corporation. Now, Tini’s reluctance to respond to initial allegations and to meet arbitration dates has left CIIC frustrated.

“He has been given many chances to reply but he hasn’t come to the party. There’s nothing the board can do about these delay tactics,” said Taio.

If the process has not been frustratingly slow already, audit findings that were forwarded on to police months ago have reportedly yet to result in an investigation.

A letter from acting CIIC chief executive Lloyd Miles to audit director Paul Allsworth in November shows the corporation has put a stop to employment and benefits that had been going to Tini’s friends and family over his three years on the job.

Tini’s management also came under heavy scrutiny in the audit report.

“The PERCA reports talk of John Tini’s management style as being autocratic and controlling. I believe that some staff felt CIIC not a safe place to work and felt threatened. I have heard complaints of verbal abuse and even a staff member being threatened physically,” Miles wrote.

Miles’ response to audit included the fact that CIIC had recorded an operating loss of $275,000 for the year ending June 30 2009 with directors having no warning of the possibility and management taking no action to minimise the loss.

He also revealed that CIIC had overspent on the Telecom Sports Arena and Pacific Mini Games project by as much as $600,000.

During Tini’s three years, the board of directors were also reportedly ‘out of the loop’ on CIIC business with no regular monthly meetings to keep them informed.

One case of Tini’s alleged nepotism was the employment of Trent Matatia (trading as Technical Minds, Technicare and Safe & Secure) and his associate Ross Warwick to provide computer support.

Miles told Allsworth that these services were ‘something like ten times the normal cost’ and that it was obvious to all staff that the IT costs were excessive, the provider was not competent and it should not have been allowed to continue for over two years.

Matatia was also provided accommodation set aside for the Queen’s Representative at a ‘below commercial’ rate.

Warwick was allegedly provided the opportunity to purchase drink vending machines using CIIC as the ‘supposed purchaser’.

The vending machines were then shipped as part of a CIIC shipment and cleared through Customs as CIIC property – avoiding the VAT payment for them.

Miles said that a cursory and subsequent internal audit of CIIC computers revealed that a number of people were aware of the purchase and played parts in the deception including John Tini, Ross Warwick and three other members of the staff (names removed for this story).

“A considerable amount of CIIC time and resources were utilised in the purchase of the vending machines. Numerous people wrote to the vendor during CIIC time, on CIIC computers, with CIIC email addresses and maintained the charade that CIIC was purchasing the drink vending machines.

“When that began to waiver the CEO (Tini) made a trip to Auckland and personally fronted up to assure the vendor that the purchaser was the Cook Islands government,” wrote Miles to audit.

To top it off, Warwick was also given a 40-foot shipping container owned by CIIC to use for almost a year at no cost and was allowed to live rent free for several months in a converted Portacom behind a government house.

Now CIIC has put a stop to this practice, cancelled Matatia and Warwick’s tenancy and claimed back the shipping container.

Another case of alleged nepotism was when Teokotai Teokotai was provided with building work and paid $300 a day – he was sent with CIIC staff to Aitutaki to work on the Aitutaki Power Supply project contrary to the wishes of the project manager (Miles).

Rarotonga contractors who worked on the Aitutaki Power Station project were accommodated at Aitutaki Beach Villas – owned by the Tini family.

“On one occasion the project manager (Miles) organised for cheaper and more appropriate accommodation for a group of workers from Australia. John Tini severely reprimanded him for his trouble, ignoring an obvious conflict of interest,” wrote Miles.

Meanwhile, Taio said last week that as far as he’s concerned, the board will continue to pursue Tini’s termination.