Transport

Further delays for NZTA reviews

The transport sector is still waiting on the outcome of the Ministry of Transport’s review into NZTA’s regulatory role, which has been delayed. Another NZTA review has also been pushed back and will not release its final recommendations until September. 

NZTA looks after funding for the country’s roads, but also regulates car importers and the companies that issue warrants of fitness (WoFs) and driver licences. Last year concerns were raised over the agency's enforcement of regulation standards, especially that it was failing to clamp down on companies issuing WoFs to vehicles that did not merit them. 

In one case, a motorist died when a faulty seatbelt failed in an accident after the car was given a WoF by Dargaville Diesel Specialists.

The scandal led to Transport Minister Phil Twyford announcing last November that the Ministry of Transport would review NZTA’s regulatory function. 

The review was meant to report back by March, but it has been delayed. The Ministry of Transport confirmed the delay was due to the sheer volume of material.

“As the review has progressed, it has become clear that the volume of interviews and information that have been provided will take longer to consider, and provide advice on,” said the Ministry, through a spokesperson.

Twyford said the review would be provided to him in the "next couple of weeks". 

"While the review was due to completed by the end of March, the Ministry of Transport have advised that due to the larger than expected number of interviews, it is taking longer to consider and provide advice on," he said.

In the meantime, a key figure has left NZTA. Michael Stiassny, who was appointed chair of the agency's board for a three year term in 2018, announced he was resigning last month.

Stiassny was a key figure in identifying concerns around the neglected regulatory function. He engaged law firm Meredith Connell to review 850 open compliance files to establish how widespread the problem was. 

Stiassny said he left the board after completing what he had set out to do in reforming the agencies regulatory compliance review.

However Stiassny’s reformist approach is controversial and it was well-known he encountered some push back.

Conflict of interest consultation also delayed

In parallel to this, NZTA itself delayed a review of its regulations, specifically those governing conflicts of interest. Consultation on these rule changes was extended twice and finally closed in March. The final outcome of the consultation is expected between July and September.

The proposed rule changes followed a Newsroom story in which it was revealed companies in the Optimus group had been importing vehicles from Japan and certifying them.

The companies (VINZ and Nichibo) initially failed to inform NZTA and the Companies Office they had the same ultimate owner, meaning they flouted NZTA’s conflict of interest rules.

Under NZTA’s existing regime, the companies may have been allowed to continue operating provided they could prove the conflict of interest was managed properly. 

But last year NZTA announced it would review the rules and outlined a proposal that would effectively outlaw structures like that employed by the Optimus Group. The rules were put out to consultation which was due to close at the end of November. 

Information released under the Official Information Act and supplied to Newsroom said VINZ currently inspected 20 percent of vehicles imported by Nichibo. 

The rule change would make this largely impossible.

Optimus engaged top public law firm Chen Palmer, who successfully lobbied for the consultation period to be extended to February 20. That date was pushed back again to March 22. The agency is now in the process of reviewing submissions.

Any change in policy will be announced between July and September and will take effect by the end of the year.

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