Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Westpac's corporate bribery

Westpac is currently the official banker to the New Zealand government, handling the billions the government spends each year, and getting a cut for the privilege. Exactly how much isn't clear, however, its the sort of thing where you'd expect the government to be working to get value for money. Unfortunately, they're not - Westpac has held the contract for the past 21 years, and it has never been tendered out. Ever (though it is finally being reviewed, but its not clear if that review will result in an open tender).

This is so dramatically at odds with normal government practice of using open tenders to get value for money that it demands explanation. The government won't give one. Which leaves people to draw their own conclusions. And now the Greens have revealed an interesting fact: a large number of government Ministers receive extraordinarily generous corporate "hospitality" (AKA "bribes") from Westpac:

A series of Green Party written questions has revealed a widespread pattern of treating government ministers and their staff. Nine ministers were found to have accepted corporate hospitality from Westpac Bank in the last year, including box seats at the Rugby 7s, dinner at the White House restaurant, and tickets to rock concerts. Thirteen ministers had staff who had accepted similar hospitality from Westpac.
The full list of who got what is here. And its disturbing. As the Greens point out, it corrodes our belief in clean government and creates a perception of influence. It looks corrupt. And even if its not, if Westpac aren't getting what they're paying for (because there is no reason for them to pay these bribes except in the hope of future favourable treatment), then it is still hugely damaging.

Hopefully the exposure of this practice will lead to a change in Ministerial behaviour. Ministers should not be accepting bribes from large corporates, or indeed anyone - it looks bad. And if they can't keep their snouts out of the trough, then they shouldn't be a Minister. It is that simple.

(Kudos to the Greens for exposing it. I see a long line of interesting Parliamentary questions about who else Ministers have accepted hospitality from).