Monday, March 30, 2009

A conflict of interest

That didn't take long. Having been a Minister for less than six months, National's Richard Worth is up to his neck in a conflict of interest scandal. According to the Dominion-Post, Worth took a holiday to India at his own expense to promote his own business interests, including overseeing the signing of a memorandum of understanding between an Indian aviation club and the Southern Institute of Technology to provide aviation training as part of a joint venture with one of his companies. So far, so good - there's nothing improper about that. But while there, he also spoke at a formal ceremony in his role as Internal Affairs Minister on... the benefits of New Zealand for aviation training. In other words, he was using his Ministerial position to tout for business, and so enrich himself.

Worth sees nothing wrong with this. Neither, apparently, does John Key. But its a clear mixing of Ministerial and personal roles, and a clear violation of Cabinet Manual guidelines which highlight the importance of appearances and propriety as much as reality. Where Ministers are concerned, the mere perception of a conflict is damaging to the integrity of and public trust in the government. Worth and the rest of Cabinet need to be reminded of that immediately. Otherwise, we are going to be seeing more, and more serious conflicts of interest from Ministers in the future.