Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Amy Adams owes us some answers

Over at Rebuilding Christchurch, James Dann has done some digging into Environment Minister Amy Adams and the ECan dictatorship. Adams owns several farms, worth millions of dollars. Those farms are in the irrigation area of Central Plains Water (a company Adams' farm owns shares in), meaning they are likely to increase substantially in value. As a backbench MP, Adams voted to overturn Canterbury's elected regional council and replace it with unelected dictators - a move subsequently revealed to have been all about giving water rights to companies like CPW, and for the 2011 Budget which assigned $400 million to an Irrigation Acceleration Fund intended to fund such companies. And as a Minister, she fronted Cabinet's decision to extend the ECan dictatorship - a decision which will make it easier for CPW to gain the water and funding it needs. Which seems to be a fairly significant conflict of interest. As Dann says,

The Central Plains Water scheme would not have been viable if the National government had not passed the ECan bill in 2010. The value of land with access to water for irrigation is greater than land which does not. Adams owns a large amount of land which is within the CPW water scheme, and also owns shares in the scheme itself. It is difficult not to conclude that the actions of this government, including Adams and Carter, have benefitted their farming portfolios.
The Cabinet Manual agrees that this would be a conflict of interest:
Pecuniary interests are financial interests such as assets, debts, and gifts. A pecuniary conflict of interest may arise if a Minister could reasonably be perceived as standing to gain or lose financially from decisions or acts for which he or she is responsible, or from information to which he or she has access. A pecuniary conflict of interest could, for example, relate to the value of land or shares that a Minister owns, or the turnover of a business in which a Minister has an ownership interest.
[Emphasis added]

I think its clear that Adams could reasonably be perceived as standing to gain from broad decisions around ECan and irrigation in Canterbry. So did she declare those conflicts? Not as an MP - she spoke on the Canterbury dictatorship bill, but made no declaration (though her farm - but not its shareholding in CPW - was listed in the Register of Pecuniary Interests). As for the Ministerial decisions, she became a Minister in December 2011, and declared a number of conflicts [p. 7], including a pecuniary interest in "potential decisions in respect of a particular company" (responsibility for which was transferred to Bill English, then Gerry Brownlee), and a personal interest in "potential decisions as Minister for the Environment in respect of a particular company" (responsibility for which was transferred to David Carter). Unfortunately the Cabinet Office won't say what those companies are (or even whether its one company or two), but we can guess that one was her farm, and one may have been CPW. The question is how broadly those declarations were interpreted, both by the Cabinet Office and by Adams. Did Adams behave ethically, and recuse herself from discussion about extending the Canterbury dictatorship, a governance regime which protects and increases the value of her investments? I think she owes us some answers on that.

Update: See also this post on Adams' answers so far.