You can’t have it both ways Bill

The regular Parliamentary Register of Percuniary Interests was published in January of this year.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English’s pecuniary interests were declared in that register as:

Hon Bill ENGLISH (National, Clutha-Southland)
1. Company directorships and controlling interests
Resolution Farms Limited – farming

6. Real property
Family home, Dipton
Farm, Dipton

But earlier this week the first ever MP’s expenses register was published. It revealed, in relation to Bill English and a property in Karori, Wellington, that he was claiming from the Government almost $1000 a week expenses to live in:

A search of the title by the Dominion Post showed the Karori home was bought by Mr English and his wife, Mary, for $800,000 in 2003. However, in March this year the title was transferred to Mrs English alone.

A spokesman for Mr English said the home, now worth an estimated $1.2 million, was always owned by a family trust.

They show he claimed $23,763 for Wellington accommodation costs in the first six months of the year for living in the Karori house.

A spokesman for Mr English told the newspaper the ownership of the house had remained with a family trust.

The transfer of title in March was caused by “changes in the trustee arrangements for personal and family reasons”.

Okay, so a couple of questions:

    Question 1: Why does the home in Karori, which was in the joint title of Bill and Mary English from 2003 until March of this year, not appear in Bill English’s register of pecuniary interests published in January of this year?

    Question 2: Is it lawful, and if so, is it ethical, for a Minister to claim almost $1000 a week to live in a house in Wellington that is owned by his wife, who also works as a medical practitioner in Wellington, together with the younger of his kids, who also live and go to school in Wellington.

English is the MP for Clutha Southland. As the Register of Pecuniary Interests reveals, he owns property there, but I understand it is or was either leased or rented out. So where does he stay when he is in his electorate overnight on constituency matters. In a motel or hotel perhaps, with the costs of that being charged back too.

Do I see another Ministerial resignation coming on?

Pity for me personally if it is English, because I have a bet with someone that Nick Smith will be the next to go (and Paula Bennett must already be on shakey ground too).

Corrupt!

The word “corrupt” was bandied about by the National Party a lot when they were in opposition. Day after day, they targeted Labour in Parliament using the term to refer to Labour’s 2005 election pledge card.

So how ironic it is to see this story on TV3’s Campbell Live last night, involving none other than National’s Mount Albert byelection candidate Melissa Lee:

It is alleged Lee continued to involve herself with making election programmes when she and her friend and colleague Pansy Wong were themselves part of the programme.

Even more damaging, it is alleged that she used NZ On Air funded Asia Down Under staff and equipment to make a National Party campaign video.

From where I’m sitting, there’s only one word for that!

Maybe Ravi Musuku will have a reason to complete his webpage after all.

Hat Tip: The Standard for the video

UPDATE: As John A points out at The Standard, Asia Down Under doesn’t appear in the National Party’s electoral expenses return either. This just keeps getting more interesting.

We’re #1?

Poneke and The Standard are both trumpeting our international ratings as the least corrupt country in the world lately. People do seem to be forgetting the sunshine for the clouds, I find. We have one debacle in which an MP is reprimanded for their behaviour, and suddenly everyone thinks our country is terribly corrupt as the media and National and Act all try to jump over the opportunity.

As expressed by one Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”1 Corruption as a trend has long been regarded as inseparable from wielding power. Whether you agree with the good Lord on the causal relationship or not is another matter. Frank Herbert, famous as an author of science fiction, has the counter-saying: “Power attracts the corruptible.”

The fact is that while corruption occurs here, (and I think it will inevitably occur anywhere, it’s just a question of prevalence and frequency) we are one of the places in the world that deals with it the quickest, (Winston Peters was being reviewed in a matter of weeks- some places in europe would manage months before that happened, and in places like Africa or Russia, it might not happen at all!) most fairly to all involved, including the potential perpetrator, and most openly to the public. The fact that we actually got to see some of the proceedings live despite the small size of our media and democracy is quite frankly amazing. The fact that a politician can have their reputation challenged even among a climate of political parties who routinely funnel money through secret trusts is excellent. We’re going so far as televising all parliamentary debates, and soon we plan to extend that treatment to select committees. If everyone else put as many resources-per-capita into dealing with corruption, in only the poorest or smallest of countries would anyone accused of corruption be wrongly excused. Framed this way, it really isn’t surprising that we are ranked first-equal at dealing with corruption.

Combating corruption is not only about stopping cops from going bent, or politicians from taking money or favours they shouldn’t, even if this is one of the best steps. It’s also about how speedily, fairly, and openly we deal with cases of corruption. How seriously such allegations are taken (which is part of why the USA is still so high up the rankings) is also a big part. The organisation that rated New Zealand first in the world even counts legalised corruption, such as “facilitation payments”, which are unheard of in New Zealand.

We shouldn’t just be mourning the fact that corruption isn’t always prevented here- although that’s a good goad for further action. We should also be celebrating the fact that our transparency, fairness, and accountability on this matter is world-class. We exceed the expectations of the founding democracies of France and the United States of America. Regardless of your misgivings over recent events, that ought to be something to celebrate as we think of how we can improve our lot, and potentially edge past Denmark and Sweden in the CPI.

1Sadly, Lord Acton lived in a time when women weren’t allowed to be great. I thought about whether it was appropriate to replace “man” with “person”, and decided on a footnote instead in this case.