A COUNTRY IN NEED OF JUDICIAL LEADERSHIP
Analysis by Selwyn Manning.
The cache of evidential material underlying claims that corruption exists at the heart of New Zealand’s Government suggests the scope of the Prime Minister’s initiated inquiry is too narrow – Especially as New Zealand’s international reputation must now be considered.
The two inquiries (the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security and the Prime Minister’s initiated inquiry) are too narrow and convey a realisation that the Government has not faced up to a glaring fact, that under its watch a culture of perceived corruption was allowed to fester at the very heart of power.
The PM’s inquiry only looks at whether the former Minister of Justice Judith Collins provided information to Cameron Slater to fuel ‘hits’ against the Serious Fraud Office director. And the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security inquiry only looks at whether Government process was properly observed when the Security Intelligence Service released redacted documents to Cameron Slater in August 2011.
Clearly, if the allegations on multiple fronts are true, this issue of perceived dirty politics is much larger and broader than the Government intends to admit to.
The allegations distill down to a perception that corrupt practice in the pursuit of political gain had been used by officers/staff and (in at least one case) an elected member of New Zealand’s Executive Government.
It is important to point out that these allegations are exactly that: are officially unproven but derived from evidence that is now reasonable to consider legitimate, raw data that has been tabled in the public domain, that the High Court’s Justice John Fogerty deemed worthy of publication in the public interest. The raw data that when considered in isolation, and brought together as a sum, leads to a persuasive conclusion that the entire matter ought to be tested by a broad-based independent judicial forum. (Ref. NZHerald).
It is in consideration of the public interest that we document a summary of the allegations in this report to demonstrate why a Royal Commission of Inquiry must be established, not only in the public interest but also in the National Interest.
The allegations primarily focus on:
- The perception that elected members of the Executive Wing of Government have overseen (and in at least one case were likely directly involved in) the manipulation of the public’s understanding of the good governance principles of government;
- A Minister of the Crown had allegedly encouraged clandestine attacks on the investigative elements of government (the Serious Fraud Office);
- A Minister of the Crown allegedly provided the identity of a public servant to a notorious attack-blogger/friend… that the information contained the identity, title, and contact details of the public servant, an official of the government, who the Minister believed had leaked official information;
- Additionally it is alleged that that Minister remained silent while the public servant was vilified publicly;
- It is also alleged that that Minister failed to attempt to stop the attacks, or to front on the issue, or use her considerable influence to curb the vilification of the public servant even once the degree of loathing for the public servant intensified to the point where death threats were made;
- It is also alleged that a member/s of the Office of the Prime Minister was/were involved in an ongoing task to clandestinely pass information damaging to the National-led Government’s opponents to the attack-blogger and that the practice was an abuse of the power assumed by such high office, and was of a clandestine nature so as to protect the Prime Minister and other elected members of Government from any negative public perceptions against their character.
As mentioned above, the public interest is cited as justification for listing the allegations.
To date, is mentioned above, two inquiries have been announced:
- the Prime Minister’s initiated inquiry into former Justice Minister Judith Collins’ activities (scoped down to investigate solely allegations that she wrongfully sought to undermine Adam Feeley, the director of the Serious Fraud Office in 2011),
- and the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security’s inquiry into the release of declassified intelligence information to Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater.
But neither inquiry will broadly investigate the raft of claims that, if true, cumulatively point to a culture of corruption within New Zealand’s Executive Government. As such, neither inquiry cited above will satisfy the public interest.
While both inquiries are important elements, in their isolation and in a state of disconnect, each fails to assure an outcome that will engender a public confidence in the good and professional governance of this country’s affairs.
As such, the Prime Minister risks undermining the public interest should he continue to refuse a Royal Commission of Inquiry and neglects that most essential measure of a democratic economy’s character, the National Interest.
Let’s consider the National Interest.
AN HONOURABLE NATIONAL IDENTITY IS A PRIZED JEWEL INDEED:
The rationale goes that New Zealand must now be seen to actively repair a perception that its good governance principles have been damaged.
New Zealand’s international reputation as an honest broker on the trade circuit is at risk. This is a vulnerability where opportunistic trading economies currently competing against this Nation (in produce, agriculture commodity markets) may be quick to exploit.
Already, New Zealand’s reputation on the diplo-circuit has been dented. It is now clear members of New Zealand’s diplomatic corp, serving abroad, have fielded inquisitions on the validity of the alleged dirty politics scandal.
Add to this a surety of how embassies, high commissions, and consulates based in New Zealand, representing the world’s most powerful states, will have been cabling back to Washington, Beijing, London, Paris, Canberra documents that consider the quality of the allegations, an assessment of the raw data, and an analysis of what this means for the Government of New Zealand, the election, the degree of public interest, the public’s confidence factor and quotient, and a recommendation on how their respective countries should handle the affair – the strengths, the weaknesses of their own policy positions with respect to New Zealand.
Consider also, right at this time, the sensitivities involving New Zealand’s very costly pitch to be appointed non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.
To be successful, the New Zealand Government’s credentials must be beyond question. It must be perceived by the United Nations General Assembly to be beyond corruptible on matters of national and international importance.
This is a serious matter.
United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon’s visit to New Zealand last week was made at an opportune time. Officially he visited this country to receive an Honourary Doctorate from the University of Auckland. He also met with Prime Minister John Key. (Ref. ForeignAffairs.co.nz).
As Fairfax reported:
Key, who has been campaigning around the world for New Zealand’s seat at the Security Council, took the chance to emphasise the country’s commitment to the UN since it was established in 1945. And despite New Zealand’s size, its contribution to the international community has always been recognised. “We are a small country but we have held an independent foreign policy and a strong voice for a very long period,” Key said. “We are consistent in what we do and I think people respect the views of New Zealand. “We want to thank you for your friendship to New Zealand,” he said to Ban. (Ref. Fairfax).
But the UN secretary general would not be drawn on it.
The secretary-general would not comment on the potential success of New Zealand’s push for a seat the Security Council, which will be decided in October. But he acknowledged New Zealand’s long support for the UN.
“I am aware that New Zealand is very enthusiastic to serve in the Security Council. As you may appreciate as the secretary-general I am not in a position to say anything.
“This is a matter to be decided by the member states themselves,” he said. (Ref. Fairfax).
Prior to his arrival here, as all leaders are, Ban Ki-Moon will have been thoroughly briefed by his officials on the most important issues confronting the host-government. The briefing would also have included the significant elements of public discourse surrounding those issues.
The UN secretary general would have become well aware of the dominant narrative of the early election campaign – the claims and allegations underscored within investigative journalist Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics.
Add to this the fact that raw data had been publicly released (information that supported the founding premise in Dirty Politics); additional to this it is reasonable to believe Ban Ki-Moon will have been informed of how the Prime Minister had denied the validity of the information, attacked the messenger, smeared it as a left-wing conspiracy, and only accepted the Minister of Justice’s resignation after raw information was passed directly to his office under dubious circumstances. It is also reasonable to suggest, on fathoming this backstory, the briefing will have raised unanswered questions for the secretary general about the appropriateness of New Zealand being appointed to the United Nations Security Council.
TRADE PARTNER SENSITIVITIES:
In March, when the Oravida scandal erupted, what was generally not considered by New Zealand’s press was the embarrassment caused to the People’s Republic of China.
As was reported at the time: the Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, was accused by her political opponents of committing a conflict of interest during an overseas trip to China where she ‘dropped in’ and ‘endorsed’ the milk product produced by Oravida – a company which exports dairy products from New Zealand to China. Collins’ husband, it was discovered, was a director of the company.
At first the Prime Minister defended Collins, and, Collins received a fairly soft reprimand for allowing a perception of a conflict of interest to occur. As the Prime Minister quipped at the time, it was “unwise” of her.
But what was most damning for Collins and the Government were subsequent reports that revealed while in China a Chinese government official had attended a dinner-meeting with Collins and a small gathering of Oravida executives.
Collins insisted there was nothing to it, but the small gathering, with a border official in attendance, added a further dimension to an already highly charged issue. The meeting also underscored a sensitivity among Chinese diplomats who felt Collins’ actions in China fueled rumours in the west that a culture of favoritism, bribery, and corruption was in evidence among its border officials.
For the opposition parties, the Prime Minister was said to be lenient (at best), weak (at worst) over his handling of Collins.
When members of the opposition demanded in Parliament that Collins name the Chinese official, the Prime Minister, members of his office and department staff, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) officials, all knew that if they did name the official it would cause a diplomatic incident. The reason? Because it was a particularly sensitive point considering China had been preparing to expand the number of Free Trade Agreements among western trading partners. And as such China needed to ensure it was beyond tolerating a culture of sleaze among its border and trade officials. In recent years China has crushed the livelihoods and in some cases the lives of corrupt officials. It was determined to demonstrate the People’s Republic had advanced a framework founded on good professional governance.
Collins’ actions, and the Prime Minister’s soft handling of the issue, offered the perception of corruption to breathe.
To be clear, the perception was: that a Minister in the New Zealand Government was alleged to have facilitated the betterment of her husband’s business interests through the association of her sworn Ministerial title at a meeting with a Chinese border control official.
Additionally, prior to this, New Zealand Government had also become a problematic trade partner exporting child milk formula brands marketed by Fonterra to China and elsewhere that was at first believed to be contaminated with botulism bacteria. PRC diplomats had already warned New Zealand that a repeat of such unsatisfactory safety/quality standards would see access to the Chinese market blocked for New Zealand dairy products.
The latter issue saw the Prime Minister John Key travel to China in an attempt, aided and prepared by New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials, to ease tensions and advance PRC-New Zealand trade relations – a feat Key certainly achieved.
Inter-economy trade relations are like marriages, they require constant attention. And the above paragraphs underscore the kind of work New Zealand’s diplomatic corp does, often in silence, on issues of major National Interest.
It is understood that MFAT officials right now are working to ensure no hostile or competitive trading nation makes a move to exploit renewed claims that the New Zealand Government is loathed to address the perception of alleged corruption.
Long has New Zealand enjoyed a reputation on the world stage as an honest broker on issues of human rights and good governance. In our name successive governments have exported our rationale and legislative frameworks for other states to also embrace. It is important work on a global stage.
So when allegations of corruption surface, and information is presented to the public domain, when that information appears to justify the claims, the Government must act in a manner equal to the severity and seriousness of what it is accused of. To permit ignorance to take hold is as bad as a cover-up.
In this case of dirty politics, and all the elements that this issue entails, the Government must initiate a broad-based Royal Commission of Inquiry. And depending on its findings, it may well be necessary for a body to be established that asserts a purpose to eradicate a culture that fails to meet the good governance standards required of all developed and developing states.