Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A conflict of interest

The Standard has a major scoop this morning, revealing Foreign minister Murray McCully's conflict of interest over mining. McCully sits around the Cabinet table deciding on issues such as whether to mine on conservation land, and whether to boost subsidies for oil exploration. But according to the MPs’ Register of Pecuniary Interests [PDF] he owns shares in Widespread Portfolios, a self-described "mining sector venture capital investor" which funds mining companies such as Widespread Energy and Glass Earth. Both those companies - and therefore McCully - stand to profit handsomely from the government's rape and pillage policy.

The Cabinet Manual is very clear: Ministers must at all times conduct themselves in a manner "that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards". They must ensure that "no conflict exists or appears to exist between their personal interests and their public duty". Where a conflict of interest such as McCully's appears, they must at the least declare it and withdraw from all relevant Cabinet discussions (in the long-term, they should divest themselves of the relevant assets). There is no suggestion that McCully has done this. This is something that needs to be thoroughly investigated. We can not tolerate any suggestion that Cabinet Ministers are making decisions they stand to personally profit from. "What's good for me is good for the country" is not an acceptable attitude in a modern democracy.

The Standard also highlights a gap in Parliament's handling of pecuniary interests: 46 National and ACT MPs (and a fair few Labour ones) have trusts, which effectively hide assets and interests from the scrutiny of the public. And that is not good enough. MPs and Ministers must be seen to be above reproach. As with election funding, its time we busted open those trusts and had a look inside. And any MP who objects is simply unfit to hold their seat.