Friday, July 30, 2010

Why we need transparency on Cabinet conflicts of interest

So why am I kicking up such a stink about John Key's secrecy about conflicts of interest in his Cabinet? Simple: its a matter of accountability and protecting ourselves from corruption.

We expect our politicians not to be corrupt. We expect them, in the words of the Cabinet Manual, to "ensur[e] that no conflict exists or appears to exist between their personal interests and their public duty". This is a political standard, ultimately judged by the public through the ballot box. But monitoring it requires us to know what is actually going on, what potential conflicts exist, and what decisions Ministers are making.

John Key's secrecy denies us this possibility. It means we have no way of telling whether conflicts exist or appear to exist, and no way of telling whether they are handled appropriately. Which in turn means we have no way of telling whether our Ministers are clean or corrupt - and no way of voting them out if they are, because we can't know. Secrecy denies us accountability, while protecting potentially corrupt Ministers.

This is not good enough in a democracy, and its certainly not good enough in a country that prides itself as being one of the least corrupt places on Earth. We should not have to take the integrity of our politicians on faith. Instead, we should be able to see it, every day. The fact that we cannot do this both invites and entitles us to believe the worst.