Auditor-General to examine OIO after finance committee request

The study will examine how well the OIO conducts the approvals process.

The Auditor-General is to examine how the Overseas Investment Office collects and manages information following a request from Parliament's finance and expenditure committee.

In her notes accompanying the plan, Controller and Auditor-General Lyn Provost says the study would take precedence over work on monitoring tertiary education organisations, which has been deferred for a year.

The study will examine how well the OIO conducts the approvals process, including the principles it applies to assessing applications and the advice it gives about those assessments, the consistency and quality of its decisions, and the monitoring once consent has been granted.

The OIO has come under heavy fire in recent months over the length of time it takes to make decisions and the quality of the information it provides. In April it emerged that the Argentinian owners of a 1317-hectare farm in Taranaki had passed the good character test when the sale was approved in 2014, despite having a conviction in their native country for polluting a river. Ministers said they had not received that information when they signed off the deal.

An independent review by Wellington QC Peter McKenzie into the good character test found there were no major flaws in the system, leading the Labour Party to describe his conclusions as a "whitewash."

Earlier this month it emerged that the long-serving manager of the Overseas Investment Office, Annliese McClure, had been sidelined by the appointment of a "new short-term deputy chief executive." Lesley Haines was appointed by the outgoing chief executive of Land Information New Zealand, Peter Mersi.

A new fee structure for the OIO starts on July 4. Depending on the application, fees will rise by between 8.7% and 166%, allowing the office to take on more staff.

Land Information Minister Louise Upston said this would build on operational improvements already taking place: "The higher fees will mean the OIO can hire up to 30% more staff to improve services and reduce administrative delays."

A series of measures to provide targeted exemptions from the investment screening regime will also be set up by the end of the year.


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