Monday, July 21, 2008

Winston Peters must be sacked

The Prime Minister responded today to Winston Peters' admission that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had been $100,000 by Owen Glenn, calling it "embarrassing". It's a little more than that. Not only did Peters violate Parliament's Standing Orders on the declaration of gifts (something which Rodney Hide will be complaining about today) - he also violated Cabinet guidelines. The Cabinet Manual has extensive sections on Ministerial conduct and the acceptance of gifts. The short version: Ministers must clearly distinguish between their personal interests and their Ministerial roles, declare all pecuniary interests, and refuse all gifts except from close family members. This includes both cash and donations in kind:

Ministers who accept gifts worth more than the prescribed value must not only disclose them to the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament, but also must relinquish them, unless they obtain the express permission of the Prime Minister to retain them. Any gift accepted by Ministers may be relinquished to the Parliamentary Service to arrange appropriate display or storage. Gifts that Ministers receive from close family members need not be relinquished.
They can accept political party donations, but it must be made clear that the donation is accepted on behalf of the party, not on behalf of the Minister. In any case, Peters has denied adamantly that Glenn's $100K was a party donation, which means it was covered under the general gifts clause. He should have declared it, and then relinquished it. He did neither. And this is something no Prime Minister should accept. The Cabinet rules on gifts are there for a real purpose: to prevent corruption, and the perception of corruption. Peters has blatantly violated those rules, and for that he must either offer his resignation or be sacked.

Unfortunately, I rate the odds of the Prime Minister having a spine on this about as highly as I rate those of Parliament's "all powerful" (where do the journalists get that phrase from?) Privileges Committee finding that Peters violated Standing orders. The realities of MMP mean Peters has a gun to the Prime Minister's head - she can't fire him, regardless of his egregious behaviour, unless she wants her tenure as PM to end prematurely in a messy coalition collapse. Unfortunately, this means she and her party get to go down with him, because I do not think that the image of a PM permitting Ministers to receive donations in brown paper bags from people who want favours from them is one the public will accept.