Friday, July 30, 2010

Washing his hands

Yesterday in Parliament, Green MP attempted to hold Agriculture Minister David Carter accountable for the Pork Industry Board's conspiracy to circumvent the Official Information Act. The Minister responded by washing his hands of the matter:

SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Agriculture: Is he taking any action in response to reports that the Pork Industry Board sought to avoid the public embarrassment of reporting conditions in New Zealand piggeries by deliberately evading the Official Information Act; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture): No, and for a very simple reason: I have no responsibility for the Pork Industry Board being compliant with the Official Information Act.

The law however begs to differ. The Minister is responsible for appointing "at least 1, but not more than 2" directors on the Board's recommendation (the rest are elected by pig farmers), and has statutory powers to remove directors for
disability affecting performance of duty, bankruptcy, breach of any duty set out in Schedule 1 that applies to the director, or misconduct, proved to the Minister's satisfaction.
Those duties include a duty to exercise powers for a proper purpose, a duty to act within the Act, and a duty of care and diligence. Arguably the Board's conspiracy against the law violates those duties and constitutes misconduct. The Minister can therefore remove them from office.

Carter cannot be allowed to wash his hands of this. A statutory body within his portfolio is conspiring to breach the law. He must step in and make it clear to them that the government expects them to obey the OIA. If he refuses, then he should resign and make way for someone who will.