Former senior staff member asks Education Minister Chris Hipkins for Wintec probe


A former senior member of Wintec staff has written to the Education Minister asking for a ministerial probe into the tertiary provider.

And Sheryl Richards, a senior HR adviser at Wintec for six years before resigning, is being backed by former Labour MP Sue Moroney.

The latest development comes after it was revealed that Wintec spent $175,000 to ward off a Stuff investigation into allegations made against the institution and its chief executive, Mark Flowers.

The two-year investigation has been fraught with obstacles, including Flowers issuing not-for-publication answers to the reporter’s questions through his legal team at Bell Gully.

Wintec board chairman Barry Harris on December 1 acknowledged a confidential 2015 investigation into allegations against the tertiary provider and Flowers.

* Wintec spends $175,000 to help boss duck questions
* Wintec boss ‘should talk’ to Stuff

The investigation cleared Flowers of any wrongdoing, said Harris, and the Wintec board stood by the chief executive.

The allegations involve a confidential 2015 investigation into Flowers, questions about places frequented overseas while on taxpayer-funded business trips and other serious allegations that were not investigated by the tertiary provider. 

Stuff has been threatened with defamation action if it prints the allegations made by former staff members who have come forward.

In Richards’ letter to Education Minister Chris Hipkins, she details a number of alleged incidents as well as a list of former executive staff who are willing to give evidence as part of the proposed probe.

“I know you are a busy man, but surely there are better ways to spend public funds than engage expensive lawyers to protect a CEO from having to answer questions,” Richards wrote.

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“This deserves a ministerial enquiry and your urgent attention is sought.”

Moroney, the former Labour list MP for Hamilton West, supports the move by Richards, saying she became aware of the more serious allegations at the institution in July.

“I do support a ministerial probe and I’ll be certainly calling Chris Hipkins, who is a former colleague of mine, and I will be offering my advice on supporting an investigation being undertaken, because I am concerned enough to get to the bottom of it,” Moroney said.

Moroney said she had been approached by current and former staff since March, with the more serious allegations coming to her in July.

The former MP, who was instrumental in ousting Martin Matthews as auditor-general, said the information she was given by current and former Wintec staff shocked her.

“I was horrified on two levels. First, that this has been going on and known by so many people and no one thought to raise it earlier,” she said.

“It became apparent to me quite quickly that it was really widely known within the staff at Wintec and that’s just been reinforced with me again with the conversations I had this morning [Monday] with a few Wintec staff.”

Moroney said she was floored by those in powerful positions who knew about the issues but did nothing.

Hipkins confirmed on Monday that he had received a letter from Richards. 

“I have received an email from Sheryl Richards and will be responding shortly,” Hipkins said in a statement. 

“In the meantime, it would be inappropriate for me to comment. Wintec is an autonomous tertiary education institution (TEI). It is responsible for making its own academic, operational and management decisions. Wintec’s council is responsible for the financial and educational performance of Wintec and for planning the institution’s long-term strategic direction.”

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