Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A conflict of interest

Today, Parliament released its Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests [PDF]. Most of it is boring: a disturbing number of MPs using trusts to hide their conflicts of interest, some accepting gifts from dodgy foreign governments (Wayne Mapp loves South-east Asian dictatorships, it seems, while Anne Tolley prefers the Saudis), and some Ministers receiving free electronic toys from multinationals (John Key preferred to get his bribes in free sports tickets). Two MPs - Rahui Katene and Chris Carter - didn't submit declarations at all. Katene has an excuse - she's MP for Te Tai Tonga, and her return may have been screwed up by the earthquake. As for Carter, his refusal is nothing less than a contempt of Parliament, and he needs to be hauled kicking and screaming to the Privileges Committee and fined a large amount of money for refusing to abide by even the minimal standards of transparency we set for MPs.

There was one big discovery, though: Hekia Parata declared a shareholding in Contact Energy, our largest privately-owned electricity company. Parata is also Minister of Energy, so this is a prima facie conflict of interest. How strong depends on the size of the shareholding, but at the very least it looks bad. For obvious reasons, Ministers should not be financially involved in industries they are supposed to regulate. If they are, then it creates a perception that decisions may be made for personal financial gain.

This is not good enough. I expect our Ministers to be seen to be clean. Parata needs to explain what her holding is, so that we all know the extent of any conflict, and then she needs to sell it. Otherwise, she must give up her position as a Minister. It is that simple.