Chris Higgins denies “silence payouts” to former MDA employees

After three months of silence, MDA leader Chris Higgins has spoken about the scandals surrounding the association.

In a sit-down interview with The Real Michael Pulman, the CEO of the Muscular Dystrophy of New Zealand wouldn’t be drawn on if he would be making a public statement to the members anytime soon.

Higgins offered some answers, but little to no assurance that the scandals weren’t going to continue at the MDA.

At April’s AGM, Higgins left the room before questions were asked of him by his own members, and Higgins says he was advised by National Council to leave on grounds that him staying in the room would be unfair and unsafe.

“What was meant to happen, and didn’t happen which was pretty frustrating, was that a group of National Council members had stayed behind to answer questions but it is my understanding that it didn’t happen,” Higgins said.

According to Higgins, National Council made the decision to remove him from the room for safety reasons, fearing the situation may have become volatile.

The decision was made prior to the AGM, according to Higgins.

“At the end of the day it wasn’t my decision, it had been pre agreed,” Higgins said.

The MDA posted a financial deficit of over $300,000 in 2014 after coming off a significant surplus the year prior.

Higgins cited an increasingly difficult market to gain revenue in the disability sector, especially for a charitable organisation, as a key reason for the massive financial deficit posted in the year.

“A big problem is revenue, rather than expenditure, but there are some things we can do to tighten the belt a bit,” Higgins said.

Higgins wouldn’t be drawn on where the large sum of money went.

Higgins didn’t comment on the ‘other’ section in the financial statement where there is an unspecified expenditure of over $100,000.

“I can’t answer that off the top of my head,” Higgins said.

Higgins wouldn’t comment on claims that former employees of the association have been paid off to remain silent on dysfunctions in National Office and managerial problems during Higgins’ tenure as CEO.

“Most of the staff have left due to reasons not related to the work environment,” Higgins said.

Sources say that up to three former employees have received payout.

“I can’t comment on if an individual received a payout,” Higgins said.

The electioneering email written by Liz Mills that was sent to members via the private database was a matter where the Wellington office manager sent out the content under the guidance of Wellington chair Peter Tregg.

“I am not sure if it was a violation of the constitution, but it has been recognised that it was inappropriate,” Higgins said.

Voting numbers for Heather Brownings election as National Council chairperson have not been released.

Higgins wouldn’t comment on when, or if, those numbers would be released and passed on responsibility for that to National Council.

Just prior to April’s AGM, the MDA was rocked with another scandal after it was reported by The Real Michael Pulman that Higgins had verbally attacked Joy Jenkin, a paying member of the association and mother of a young disabled boy who was also witness to the incident as well as two others.

Higgins expressed regret about the incident, but wouldn’t be drawn on if he suffered from anger issues.

“I am not going to try and justify, it was something that shouldn’t have happened, and it has been subject to an investigation which is still going on. I really regret it, if I could pull the clock back and do it again, I would certainly do it differently.”

Higgins went on to deny he had verbally attacked others involved in the organisation.

“I don’t think there is any evidence to support that,” Higgins said.

Higgins denied accusing Jenkin of fuelling reports posted by The Real Michael Pulman.

Higgins compared to his role as CEO to “hired help”, and said that National Council is accountable back to the membership, not himself.

Higgins denied that his meeting with The Real Michael Pulman was advised by anyone at National Office, or by any member of National Council. Higgins also hinted that the claims of electioneering were made because it is expected that things of that nature happen at election time.

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