The purchase of a $750 suitcase by Invercargill City Council for the sole purpose of bringing gifts home from Japan has drawn criticism from elected members.

This week, council staff presented a list of “sensitive expenditures” to the finance and projects committee for the period September to December 2023 — totalling $59,867.

The report included bills from a July 2023 trip to sister city Kumagaya, Japan, which hadn’t been processed until a later date.

A $749.41 item titled “purchase additional suitcase for additional gifts” caught the attention of mana whenua representative Pania Coote, who asked for more information.

Is that more than one suitcase?

“The suitcase was quite expensive. Or was that more than one suitcase?” Coote asked.

A short discussion followed, with Coote’s question remaining unanswered.

Council group manager finance and assurance Patricia Christie has since clarified the expenditure was for a single hard-shell case, used to transport a bamboo bowl and porcelain plate back to New Zealand.

Both items were gifted by the City of Kumagaya and the Kumagaya Friendship Association, and required a “high degree of protection” due to their delicate nature, Christie said.

“The purchase of the suitcase was done so in the presence of councillor Barry Stewart, and was approved by Mayor Nobby Clark.”

Councillor Ria Bond told Local Democracy Reporting more information on the expense was provided after the meeting but maintained it was an “exorbitant” price for a suitcase.

Total cost more than $36,000

“When people in our city, they can’t even put food on their plates. That’s excessive,” she said.

In November, the council revealed it spent more than $36,000 on the trip to Kumagaya.

The travelling party included Mayor Nobby Clark, deputy mayor Tom Campbell, four councillors, one staff member, and an interpreter.

Prior to the trip, Campbell said he would pay his own way, and followed through on his promise.

Also included in the council’s sensitive expenditure list for September to December 2023 were bills for catering workshops and meetings totalling just over $7000.

Some of those items pertained to purchases that occurred outside of the four-month time period.

The gifts from Japan were not currently on display at the council but would likely be so in the near future, Christie said.

By Matthew Rosenberg, Local Democracy Reporter

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air

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