The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment has launched an investigation into a privacy breach over the leak of payments to thousands of consultants, the recruitment firms that supply them and contract details for the past four years.
The data was anonymously emailed to BusinessDesk by an MBIE insider who claimed the ministry is about to "lie" about the true extent of its spending on consultants in answer to expenditure questions from a parliamentary select committee.
The ministry denied it would mislead the select committee while confirming the data originated from its offices and was an internal document accessible to a very limited number of employees.
The data show MBIE spent $82.9 million on contractors in 2016-17 and another tab on the spreadsheet shows $10.9m spent on consultants, listed by contract number.
The total of the consultants and contractor tabs is $94m while MBIE's 2017 financial statements put operating expenditure on contractors at $40.6m and consulting services at $15.6m - a total of $56 million.
The figures in the 2017 annual report "represent MBIE's fully reconciled and audited accounts as reported to parliament," a spokeswoman said.
In addition to the spending on contractors and consultants in the 2016-17 year, "we obtain professional services from external suppliers with expenditure of $48.08m. This may include contractors where that is the appropriate means of service delivery."
The ministry says the leaked data sheet was of raw numbers compiled for different purposes and couldn't be reconciled with the officially reported figures.
The spreadsheet lists 2260 named contractors used by MBIE over the past four years and 1801 consulting firms and individuals listed by contract number.
The top two contractors were paid more than $1 million each over the four years and 16 more received over $800,000.
In seeking comment from MBIE, BusinessDesk agreed not to disclose or transmit any personal and commercially sensitive information.
The ministry asked for the data to be deleted.
"The information you received from an MBIE staff member alleges that MBIE is intending to mislead the select committee. This is not correct," Adrienne Meikle, deputy chief executive, corporate governance and information said.
"We are fully responsible and accountable for our spending, and report on that spending through our annual report and the select committee process."
MBIE was this year criticised by then Labour's economic development spokesman David Clark for its spending on external consultants and contractors for what he said was core business.
The so-called super-ministry has also come in for previous criticism, including a reported $140,000 on a curved screen TV for its head office reception.
The cover note on the email leak says the person doesn't view themselves as an 'Edward Snowden' character "but felt there just needed to be some transparency about what was happening with this reckless spending of taxpayer money."
"I don't blame the current CFO or CE - the people responsible for signing so much of this spending are the slightly lower level DCE's and general managers," the person said.
"This has been a difficult thing to do as I obviously work at this ministry and do not wish to lose my job there. It upsets me as a taxpayer to have to write this but in the end, there was little choice.
"I could have raised concern within govt but I don't believe my concerns would have been properly acted upon."
MBIE said staff who had issues of concern or felt put in a position of 'whistle-blower' could use the ministry's "independent, anonymous 24-hour integrity line".