NT Government rules out investigation into controversial $10m grant to NT Beverages
NT Beverages, which makes Akuna Springs and Akuna Blue water brands, was controversially awarded a $10m government grant. (Facebook: NT Beverages)
A Darwin water bottling company that misled consumers about the source of its water and was found to have run a charitable foundation that did not make a single donation will keep $10 million of taxpayer money, the NT Treasurer has said.
- NT Beverages is facing scrutiny over a $10 million Infrastructure Development Fund (IDF) grant
- Treasurer Nicole Manison has ruled out launching an investigation into how the money was awarded
- However, the NT Auditor General will be asked to investigate the Treasury Department’s controls on the IDF fund
It is the only investment the fund — set up with $200 million from the sale of public insurer TIO — has made in more than two years.
NT Beverages, the maker of Akuna Springs and Akuna Blue water products, recently changed the claims of the source of the water on its website after the ABC revealed their previous claims were incorrect.
The ABC investigation uncovered that the water in Akuna Springs bottles was no better than tap water, despite claims of it offering “incredible health benefits”.
The company was also found to have established a charitable foundation with the promise of helping “those in need” and funding “indigenous literacy programs”, but has not made a donation since its formation two years ago.
Treasurer Nicole Manison said an investigation would not be launched into the awarding of public money to the company, because the NT IDF, as a private entity, made the decision to give it the $10 million.
“The NT IDF made an independent investment decision,” she said.
When asked if there was any way to overrule the IDF and retrieve the public money, Ms Manison replied: “No, that money has been invested.”
Independent MLA Robyn Lambley said Ms Manison’s lack of action on recovering $10 million of public money given away to an “undeserving company” in the face of “soaring government debt levels” was “incredible”.
“No care and no responsibility from the Treasurer,” she said.
“Soon, all Territorians will be paying $10 million in interest per week to manage the debt thanks to her. No wonder she is not fussed by another $10 million disappearing into the ether.”
Ms Lambley had called on NT Auditor General Julie Crisp to investigate the dealings of the IDF board, but was denied.
According to legislative mandates, only a Minister of the Crown can initiate a “follow the money” audit of organisations such as the IDF, which operates as a private entity despite being fully funded by taxpayers.
‘The process has to be rigorous’
Ms Manison ruled out calling in the Auditor General to investigate the IDF and has instead asked her to investigate the Treasury Department’s controls on the fund, which according to government sources are virtually non-existent.
The Auditor General’s report is not expected to be tabled until sometime next year.
Nicole Manison has ruled out asking the Auditor General to investigate the IDF. (ABC News: Dane Hirst)
The Labor Government had shifted blame for the $200 million IDF on the previous CLP government, but last month, Ms Manison admitted she had signed off on the formation of the fund after coming into office in 2016.
“The work was pretty much done and we did do the final sign off to have that body established,” she said.
IDF chair Les Fallick has repeatedly refused to comment on the NT Beverages investment.
NT Government board representative and head public servant Jodie Ryan also refused to comment on how the IDF was spending taxpayer money, citing “commercial in confidence” issues.
Infrastructure Capital Group, the private “boutique” investment firm that Territory taxpayers pay $1 million a year to find investments for and manage the IDF, has also repeatedly declined to answer questions.
However, ICG director David Lovell was quoted as telling a local paid-content business publication recently that every project the IDF invests in was assessed “through extensive due diligence and commercial and financial analysis”.
“We are investing public money and the process has to be rigorous,” he was quoted as saying.
Mr Lovell declined to explain to the ABC what due diligence was undertaken with the NT Beverages investment and why his firm did not detect or act on the issues that have since been raised.
Ms Manison said the Labor Government was currently “assessing” the status of the IDF moving forward.
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