National MP Chris Bishop - Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas
The National Party is questioning those in charge of the Provincial Growth Fund after it was revealed a New Zealand First-linked forestry company made an application to the fund, headed by NZ First MP Shane Jones.
The Provincial Development Unit (PDU) presented its briefing on the fund to the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee on Thursday.
National MP Chris Bishop asked both the head of the PDU Robert Pigou and Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment chief executive Carolyn Tremain when Mr Jones was first alerted to an application from Future Forestry Products Limited.
The founding director of the company, Brian Henry, is Winston Peters' lawyer and judicial officer for the New Zealand First party.
The company was formed in March and made an application to the fund on 4 April.
Mr Peters' partner, Jan Trotman, was made a director of the company in August.
Mr Jones declared a conflict on interest in October, meaning the application was then passed on to Minister David Clark for consideration, which was declined.
When asked by Mr Bishop if the application would have come up in the weekly report to Mr Jones, Ms Tremain said she was happy to review the briefings to find out.
She then defended the processing of the application.
"This application did not go through any exceptional or unusual process, it went through our standard processes - the conflict was registered, the minister [Mr Jones] stood aside," she said.
"From our point of view, there has been nothing unusual with this process."
Outside the meeting, Mr Pigou said they would look into the weekly briefings to Mr Jones "smartly", but added he would be surprised if the minister knew about the application before October.
"A lot of the projects we get are at the risky end of the spectrum in terms of their ability to even get off the ground, so there is a lot of work that my guys do to try and work out if this thing has a chance of succeeding or not," he said.
"That can often take quite a lot of time and I think this is what we saw with this particular [proposal]."
But hours later, the PDU has come out to say information was provided to Mr Jones' office on two occasions that referenced the project.
The first was in July and again in September - no decision was sought from the minister on those occasions.
But during Question Time today, Mr Jones was adamant he was not aware of the conflict until October.
"Until October the 14th, I was not formally notified. I am advised, however, that officials have put in reports the name of the company they were dealing with, unfortunately I had no idea who that company was," he said.
Mr Bishop then questioned the minister why he had been emailed by one of the company's founding directors and son of Brian Henry, David Henry in September.
Mr Jones replied there was no conflict with David Henry, who he might have met "once or thrice".
He said his conflict of interest lay with Brian Henry, which he took immediate action to recuse himself from.
This now marks the third conflict of interest declared by the minister's office since the fund began.