Howick Local Board chairman David Collings has narrowly avoided having his name sent to police by Election Services after he was seven weeks late handing in his electoral donations and expenses returns.
Section 112A of the Local Electoral Act 2001 requires every election candidate to file a return of electoral donations and expenses “within 55 days after the day on which the successful candidates at any election are declared to be elected”.
At 5pm on January 31 – a little over a week ago – 15 candidate names were sent to police by Election Services after they all missed the final electoral return deadline, which had already been extended more than once.
Mr Collings filed his two returns four days before that final deadline – on January 27 – after Election Services reminded him for a third time and informed him that a Times reporter was looking into why his returns had not been received and published online.
For the local elections held on October 8 last year – in which Mr Collings was successfully re-elected onto the Howick Local Board, Pakuranga subdivision – the electoral return deadline set by Election Services was December 9.
This date was later extended to December 14 and then January 31 (scroll to the bottom of this story to see why).
Mr Collings also ran for a seat on the Counties Manukau District Health Board in the October elections and was unsuccessful.
The Times contacted Auckland Council and Election Services on January 27 – 104 days after successful candidates were declared to be elected and 49 days after the initial return deadline – after it discovered that Mr Collings had not yet submitted his return for both the Howick Local Board election as well as the Counties Manukau District Health Board election.
This is the second election in a row that Mr Collings has missed the 55-day deadline for both the Howick Local Board and Counties Manukau District Health Board – for the 2013 election he was 89 days late handing in his electoral returns for both elections.
The Local Electoral Act 2001 states that a candidate who fails, without reasonable excuse, to comply with section 112A commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1000 and if elected, a further fine not exceeding $400 for every day that he or she continues to hold office until the return is filed.
Managing director of Election Services, Dale Ofsoske, responded to the Times’ enquiry on January 27 (the same day) to say Mr Collings had now filed his returns.
“This was received this afternoon after a phone call from me reminding him this had not yet been submitted, despite being reminded of this in November and December…”
When asked if he had informed Mr Collings during that phone call that a reporter was asking questions about his missing returns, Mr Ofsoske said: “Yes I did, although he did say he had completed it before Christmas but had neglected to send it in.”
This statement matches the date on Mr Collings’ two electoral returns, which were supplied to the Times and showed nothing out of the ordinary. They are now available online.
Both completed forms, which were filed at the same time on January 27, are dated December 7, 2016.
So why were they only submitted to Election Services more than seven weeks later?
Mr Ofsoske’s statement that Mr Collings “did say he had completed it before Christmas but had neglected to send it in” does not match Mr Collings’ reasoning when questioned by the Times this week.
“I acknowledge the return needed to be filed on time of which it wasn’t and I accept full responsibility for this,” he said.
“However [Botany MP] Jami-Lee Ross acted as my agent, as he did for the whole Vision & Voice team and he did not provide me any financial information whatsoever,” he said.
Mr Collings later confirmed to the Times, however, that he did not contact Mr Ross asking for that information.
“…I knew others [Vision & Voice candidates] had requested it, so I was hoping he would provide it to them and pass it on to me, to which they did and I am most grateful of.
“Under the circumstances over what had happened following the election I did not feel comfortable contacting him.”
Mr Collings said after being provided with the financial information, he then spent “some time searching emails for any information I had to cross check this and ensure my return was accurate as I wasn’t willing to accept what had come to be from Mr Ross via a third party”.
But why was his Counties Manukau District Health Board return also 49 days late, as Mr Ross had nothing to do with that election and campaign?
“Well this was part of what held up the Howick Local Board one,” Mr Collings said.
“I had collaborated with [Howick Local Board member] Katrina [Bungard] on a number of things such as billboards, newspaper advertisements and I had to be certain that the correct amounts were attributed to the right campaign.”
But Mrs Bungard managed to file both of her electoral returns before the December 9 deadline and she used the same information you were provided with?
“Yes and I was being more cautious. It was not that I didn’t trust the information she provided me, in fact I would not have been able to complete the return without her help,” Mr Collings said.
“But I am responsible for my return and I am the one that is responsible for it being correct.”
Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross confirmed to the Times that he provided all Vision & Voice candidates with the required information “prior to the deadline for filing returns”.
“The candidates didn’t all have the same expenses, so I provided the information when I completed compiling it. Some earlier than others,” he said.
“The Pakuranga candidates’ [Mr Collings, Mrs Bungard and Garry Boles] information was provided to them via Garry Boles on December 7.”
Of the nine Howick Local Board elected members (eight of which were Vision & Voice candidates), seven filed their electoral returns on or before the December 9 deadline.
Bob Wichman (Botany subdivision) filed his on December 12 and David Collings submitted his on January 27.
When Mr Collings’ response to this story was put to Mr Ross yesterday by the Times, he said: “I can’t be blamed for David Collings breaking electoral law. All other Vision & Voice candidates were capable of meeting their legal requirements.”
Mr Ross said he has campaign-managed 26 candidates since 2004 and maintained his own records for six elections.
“Never has the accuracy or timeliness of my record keeping been questioned. Not even by David Collings when I’ve freely given my time to assist him in the past,” he said.
“Election expense and donation information is required to be submitted to ensure openness and transparency of elections. It’s a serious matter. I’m puzzled that Mr Collings is now attempting to blame someone else for his legal problems.
“He’s been doing this for a couple of decades and has a track record of flouting electoral law. The public can be the judge of his professionalism and lack of respect for legal responsibilities.”
Meanwhile, on January 31, Mr Ofsoske addressed further questions put to him by the Times about his phone call with Mr Collings four days earlier.
“In regard to my phone call last week to Mr Collings to let him know that a reporter had asked about his election return and to once again urge him to file it, while I’m not legally obliged to do so, it’s a courtesy that I would have given to any candidate,” he said.
Mr Collings said that when he was contacted, he was informed that his late returns were to be passed to police.
“…and since I feel they have more important things to do I immediately filed the information that I had to date and had been able to check.
“Again I accept full responsibility for the delay in filing the return but insist it is equally important to file one that is accurate.”
The Times also informed Mr Ofsoske on the morning of January 31, before the 15 names were sent to police, that it was not the first time Mr Collings had been late in filing his electoral donations and expenses returns.
For the local election held on October 12, 2013, Mr Collings only handed in his returns on March 12, 2014 – 89 days after the return deadline (December 13, 2013) and 144 days after the successful candidates were declared to be elected (October 19, 2013).
“I am unable to comment on Mr Collings’ 2013 return as this was handled by the then electoral officer of Auckland Council (as I was the Deputy Electoral Officer),” Mr Ofsoske responded.
Mr Collings, meanwhile, said he “can’t remember why it was late” in 2013 but that it “was probably his fault”.
As for Mr Collings’ late electoral returns for the 2016 election, Mr Ofsoske said no further action would be taken as Mr Collings had now returned the forms.
Why was the electoral return deadline extended?
Managing director of Election Services, Dale Ofsoske, was quoted in the Herald on Sunday on December 11 last year saying about 100 of the 800 or so candidates in the October local elections had not yet filed returns.
“He planned to give them a period of grace until Wednesday [December 14] before handing the matter to the police,” the article said.
But on January 27, when the Times contacted Mr Ofsoske about Howick Local Board chairman David Collings’ missing returns, that still had not been done.
The Times asked why.
“Following my December 11 statement, I decided to extend the period of grace to enable those candidates who had not returned their form more time to do so,” Mr Ofsoske said.
“Personal contact was made by my staff reminding candidates of the need to have this form submitted. Any candidates who have not returned their form by Tuesday (31 January) will now have their names forwarded to the police.”
Mr Ofsoske added that a person can only be fined if it is deemed by a judge that an offence has been committed.
On January 31, four days later, Mr Ofsoske confirmed to the Times that the names of 15 candidates had been forwarded to police.
“It is now over to them [police] to determine what action they will undertake,” he said.
As of Tuesday (February 7), only four of the 15 candidates had subsequently filed their returns.
None of the 15 ran for the Howick Local Board or Howick Ward in the October elections but two of them – Hine Joyce-Tahere and Kandi Ngataki – stood for the Counties Manukau District Health Board. They were both unsuccessful.
There were also two failed Auckland mayoral candidates in the 15 – Mario Alupis and Tyrone Raumati.
Overall, there were only three successful candidates in the 15 names sent to police – Jeff Cleave was elected onto the Great Barrier Local Board, Clera Matafai was elected onto the Portage Licensing Trust Number 2 (New Lynn), and Malcolm Bell was elected onto the Franklin Local Board, Wairoa subdivision. Mr Bell was elected unopposed.
As of February 7, those three successful candidates had still not filed their electoral returns despite having their names sent to police.
Mr Ofsoske said previous experience and anecdotal evidence from other councils and companies that offer election services tells him that candidates are traditionally slow at filing their donations and expenses returns.
“…I have some leeway to exhaust all avenues in order to ensure that candidates have been given every opportunity to file their returns,” he said.
Mr Ofsoske said that on December 9 – the initial return deadline – the number of candidates who had not filed their returns exceeded 100.
“…at which time I decided to extend a grace period in order to urge those candidates to meet their obligations under the Act,” he said.
“Due to the fact that it was coming up to the Christmas/New Year period, it was decided to continue following up with the candidates until the end of January, at which times their names would be forwarded to the police.”
By: Scott Yeoman