Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Noses in the trough

The annual Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament [PDF] has been released, and the big story this year seems to be just how many of our MPs had their noses in the corporate trough at the Rugby World Cup:

The MPs register of pecuniary interests, released today, has revealed that almost all of the cabinet attended games as guests of Sky TV, Westpac, Fonterra, Vector and other big corporates.

Labour MPs Clayton Cosgrove, Grant Robertson, Trevor Mallard, Phil Goff and Kris Faafoi were guests of Sky City.

The casino firm is behind a controversial deal for a national convention centre.

Among those who took advantage of the rugby freebies were Paula Bennett, David Carter - who was hosted by Fonterra, KPMG and Westpac - Judith Collins, Peter Dunne, Tim Groser, Nathan Guy, Phil Heatley, Steven Joyce, Nick Smith and Kate Wilkinson.

Labour leader David Shearer received 12 free tickets to various games - two for a pool game came from Sky City. He was a guest of Sky TV at the final and Telecom at the opening ceremony.

The revelation that Labour accepted Sky City's hospitality is particularly damaging, and creates an image of hypocrisy. It also highlights the danger of MPs accepting gifts from anyone: no matter how innocuous, it will be perceived by the public as compromise.

Speaking of compromise, Rajen Prasad reported receiving director's fees from Bank of Baroda. Not only does this create an obvious conflict of interest (he's a paid employee of a bank sitting in our Parliament), it also raises questions about his effectiveness as a representative. MPs are supposed to be full-time representatives, and are generously remunerated as such. Outside employment undermines that, and invites the question of why we're paying him. Though it perhaps explains Prasad's virtual invisibility in Parliament...

Other highlights: John Key received an awful lot of expensive gifts from New Zealand companies, including meat from CMP (before or after the strike, I wonder?), clothing from 3 Wise Men (an Auckland suit store), and Whiskey from Pernod Ricard. Again, compromise. While the $50 million man would no doubt pooh-pooh a gift as trifling as a mere five hundred dollar (minimum) meat-pack, from this end of society it looks like a bribe. Not to mention inconsistent with the spirit of the Cabinet Manual (though not with its letter: obviously Key simply gave himself permission to retain them - a decision rife with conflict). Again, the public's expectation is clear: we want clean politicians. And that means simply not accepting such gifts.