Labour Department rejects MP's allegations

Using Parliamentary privilege, MP alleges conflict of interest and calls for OAG, SFO audits of long-term contractor

The Department of Labour rejects allegations of conflict of interest in the award of contracts for its ICT systems, made under Parliamentary privilege by MP Richard Worth.

Worth, National MP for Epsom, called during last Wednesday's general debate for inquiries into the actions of Twywell Technologies, a major IT contractor to the department since 1997, to be conducted by the Auditor General and separately by the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, with a view to bringing in the Serious Fraud Office.

However, he is being so guarded with the information as to refuse to supply a copy of his speech notes to Computerworld, apparently on legal advice. “We have been told not to let [the text] outside Parliament,” says his secretary.

Worth also cancelled an interview with Computerworld scheduled for Tuesday last week on the issue, which has been building for weeks through a series of Parliamentary questions to Minister of Labour Paul Swain. He pleaded pressure of work.

His accusations in Parliament include the setting up by people connected with Twywell of nominee companies which then tried to bid for IT contracts with the department and in at least one case, he says, succeeded.

Labour Department spokesman Richard Ninness acknowledges that one of the companies mentioned, DaVinci Integration, was set up by an employee of Twywell and went as far as getting a copy of a request-for-proposal document for a software project. “The person concerned was warned of a potential conflict of interest and the matter went no further,” he says.

Another company mentioned by Worth in Parliament, Knight Technologies, has performed work for the department. A person involved with that company was formerly employed by Twywell, but left Twywell before the bid was made, Ninness says. “The connection is very distant.”

Computerworld has contacted the individual named, who confirms that he worked for Twywell and says he separately "contracted to" Knight for Labour Department work, but declined to comment further on the record last week without legal advice.

Twywell’s sole director and the Labour Department’s main IT manager, Maxine Welsh, “had an interest" in DaVinci, Ninness says. Welsh did not return telephone calls.

Sole director of both Knight and DaVinci, according to Companies Office records, is Wellington lawyer Rohan Francis Cooper. Responding to a phone call from Computerworld last month, Cooper said he would “speak to my client" and clear comment on the Knight and Da Vinci relationship with Twywell, but he has not called again. Swain acknowledged in his Parliamentary replies that there was a relationship between Twywell and DaVinci, which the department became aware of at the time of the RFP, in December 2001, but he gave no further details

The department has fielded “about forty questions” from Worth, Ninness says, “and as a result we have obviously looked at every aspect of our relationship with Twywell, and we have not found anything to give us cause for concern.” Transactions of Twywell and its staff with the department have already been thoroughly and professionally audited, he says.

Worth has also asked Swain about the award of contracts to Twywell itself. Ninness acknowledges that on at least one occasion Twywell was awarded a contract by the department without a competitive tender, because, he suggests, the originally appointed supplier proved inadequate to the task. Twywell, with an excellent knowledge of the department’s IT operations, stepped into the breach in a troublesome situation, he says.

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