Friday, August 18, 2006



Contradiction?

The Herald is reporting that a letter from the Solicitor-General's office contradicts political parties' claims that political spending was approved. According to the Acting Solicitor General, Parliamentary Services' job is to administer payments, they have no statutory power of decision-making, and are unable to vet spending before it is paid. Sure - but they certainly have a de facto power, and they definitely do vet spending, regardless of whether they're supposed to or not. According to one insider I've spoken to, their caucus would always ask whether a proposed publication had been run past Parliamentary Services, and the practice of informally running proposals past them before committing to spending money seems to be widespread. It's just a common courtesy, and it stops parties from wasting everyone's time and digging themselves financial holes.

More importantly, even if they have no vetting power, the fact that they administer spending and reject invoices for spending which they judge does not meet the criteria can only lead to the inescapable conclusion that if they paid up, (they thought that) the spending was OK. For the Solicitor-General to then say "actually, they got it wrong, and so the people who relied on them to get it right are responsible" seems more than a little unfair, and a perfect example of changing the rules after the game has been played. Dean Knight makes a strong case that this sort of shifting the goalposts runs counter to the Rule of Law, and makes it impossible for people to reasonably plan their lives or rely on government decisions, and I agree. It's one thing to find out that your own behaviour was illegal after the fact, its quite another to be held responsible because someone else's was.

5 comments:

"actually, they got it wrong, and so the people who relied on them to get it right are responsible" seems more than a little unfair

Yes - but...

If my accountant screws up my tax return, I'm legally responsible. Even if IRD screwed up by accepting my similar return last year.

If my lawyer gives me poor advice on a contract, I'm legally responsible.

That can be unfair. So I've a great deal of sympathy for ACT and the Greens - who seem to have followed standard practice and then got stung retroactively. They've a good moral claim, and a good claim in the court of public opinion, to say "Hey! This sucks!"

But I don't see that they've necessarily got a good legal defence. You'd have to ask a lawyer about that.

Posted by Icehawk : 8/18/2006 05:13:00 PM

Icehawk: that's because your accountant and your lawyer are legally agents of yourself. Here, it's as if IRD has screwed up systematically, told you repeatedly to do things in certain ways to comply with their guidelines, and then changed their minds and tried to sting you for doing everything wrong for the last n years.

Of course, in that case, you're "responsible" as well (because IRD gets to be a law unto itself) - but there's no question that its grossly unfair. The big difference is that MPs have the power to do something about it - and because the problem affects them, the motivation to do so.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 8/18/2006 07:54:00 PM

It is manifestly unfair for the state to shift the goalposts on a citizen when precedent has been set by that body, and then punish. Which is why Laws 179 posts of the growing public law move to avoid prosecution in such cases.

The law is not only a set of words on paper, but is shaped by its implementation. When was the last time anyone got ticketed for going 51kph? A reasonable expectation is created about how the law will be implmented.

The hypocrisy here is amazing.

Posted by George Darroch : 8/19/2006 10:09:00 AM

Idiot/Savant - The big difference is that MPs have the power to do something about it - and because the problem affects them, the motivation to do so.

Which of course is why it would be even more unfair for them to do so while leaving everyone else in the same hole.

Posted by iiq374 : 8/25/2006 07:45:00 AM

You say: "More importantly, even if [Parliamentary Services] have no vetting power, the fact that they administer spending and reject invoices for spending which they judge does not meet the criteria can only lead to the inescapable conclusion that if they paid up, (they thought that) the spending was OK."

In fact, Parliamentary Services NEVER rejects invoices if signed by an MP or senior staffer - and nor should they, because that would be for parliamentary officers to make political decisions, which they do not do.

MPs are responsible for everything that happens in Parliament, and no one else - not even the police. If there is a MURDER in Parliament, the Police still need the Speaker's permission to enter the grounds and investigate.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/25/2006 08:11:00 AM