Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rolling back transparency

So, National has responded to Chris Finlayson's contemptuous refusal to fully disclose his pecuniary interests by calling for the rules to be reviewed to allow more opportunities for MPs to hide their interests. In other words, change the rules to make it legal. Why am I not surprised? National's pretext is that the rules are "confusing". I think not. Here for example is the clause Finlayson fell afoul of:

1) Every return of pecuniary interests must contain the following information as at the effective date of the return:

(a) the name of each company of which the member is a director or holds or controls more than 5 percent of the voting rights and a description of the main business activities of each of those companies, and...

As I noted earlier, only a lawyer with a desire to hide things could convince themselves to ignore the plain reading of the words for a perverse, self-serving interpretation that it allowed some directorships to not be declared. And only a lawyer with a desire to hide things would think that the appropriate way of resolving such "confusion" was to pay another lawyer to say what you wanted them to say give an "independent" opinion, rather than ask the registrar directly.

The agenda here is clearly more secrecy around MP's business interests. And that runs directly counter to clean government and open democracy. These rules are the first line of defence against corruption. The fact that MPs must declare their interests helps prevent them from attempting to enrich themselves while in office. If anything, the rules need to be strengthened (by e.g. busting trusts and forcing MPs to declare everything), not weakened. But National has always opposed this sort of transparency, and they are taking the opportunity to roll it back. And we will all be the losers if we allow them to get away with it.