Monday, December 31, 2007

This stinks

One of the refreshing features of the Labour government over the last eight years has been its honours lists. Rather than rewarding businessmen for fattening their own wallets (something which most people view as its own reward, and unworthy of community recognition), they have instead awarded honours to musicians, artists, and academics; people who have enriched our culture and our comunity as opposed to looting and pillaging it. So its a bit unusual to see expatriate New Zealander Owen Glenn made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit this year for "services to business and the community". While he has made generous donations over the past few years (including $7.5 million to AUT for a new business school), and supported many charitable organisations, primarily his services have been to himself (he lives in a tax haven, for Cthulhu's sake!). More importantly, there's the little fact of his bankrolling Labour's election campaign to the tune of $500,000 a few years back. Which, whichever side of the political fence you sit on, ought to raise alarm bells.

Bluntly, this smells. It reeks. It stinks of payback, of rewarding your donors, of Blairite corruption and the UK's "cash for honours" scandal. And that applies regardless of what he has done. The mere fact of such a large political donation taints the honour. It is simply unseemly for Glenn to be honoured by the government he has helped in such a fashion. And that should be reason enough not to make an award.

Some will no doubt argue (as the supporters of corruption did in the UK) that it is unfair to "penalise" people by denying them honours if they have lent significant financial support to a political party. But the integrity of the process and our political system as a whole is more important than people's sense of entitlement. If someone is truly deserving, then that will be recognised by future governments (and if not, by the community). And even if it is not, it is IMHO better that people go unrecognised (at least officially) than see our honours system descend into political patronage and corruption.