Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Key's unauthorised gifts

Back in May, Parliament released its annual Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament [PDF]. In addition to revealing that many MPs had their noses in the corporate trough at the Rugby World Cup, it also exposed the Prime Minister's extensive gifts. According to the register, John Key was given:

  • Limited edition print – GBD Dezign
  • Bottled water – Premium NZ Trading Company
  • Elephant sculpture – Minister Sharma of India
  • Grain-fed, export-rated beef – CMP Canterbury Ltd
  • Wine, Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon – Prime Minister Gillard of Australia
  • Clothing – 3 Wise Men
  • Sword – replica of “Sting” from Lord of the Rings, made by Weta Workshop – President of the United States of America
  • All Blacks shirt, 2011 Tri-nations, signed and framed – New Zealand Rugby Union
  • Tickets, NRL grand final – NRL
  • Whisky, Chivas Brothers Royal Salute – Pernod Ricard
  • All Blacks shirt, RWC limited edition, signed and framed – RWC 2011
  • Rugby ball, match ball from NZ vs France pool match at RWC – IRB
  • Cricket bat, 2015 World Cup, signed by NZ and Australian captains – ICC
  • Tickets, Australian Open Women’s final – Tennis Australia
  • Wallabies rugby shirt 2011, signed – Prime Minister Gillard of Australia

The Cabinet Manual has some pretty strong rules around gifts. The basic rule is in Section 2.79

Ministers who accept gifts worth more than the prescribed value [$500, the same value at which they must be declared under parliamentary rules - I/S] must not only disclose them to the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament, but also must relinquish them, unless they obtain the express permission of the Prime Minister to retain them. Any gift accepted by Ministers may be relinquished to the Parliamentary Service to arrange appropriate display or storage. Gifts that Ministers receive from close family members need not be relinquished.
WHich invites the question: did John Key obtain authorisation to retain (and in some cases, presumably consume) those gifts? Thanks to FYI, the public-access OIA site, we now know that the answer is "no":
Permission is sought to retain gifts at the point Ministers leave office rather than every time they receive a gift. The Prime Minister has not left office in the past year, so he has not sought permission to retain his gifts from 2011 (or any earlier years). Accordingly, I am refusing your request under section 18(e) of the OIA because the information you requested does not exist.
Which may be the practice - but its not what the Cabinet Manual says. Gifts from foreign governments (such as those from Barack Obama, Minister Sharma and Julia Gillard) may be held until a Minister leaves office (Section 2.80). The implication is that everything else must be surrendered or authorised immediately. At the least, the Cabinet Office are failing to properly police our Ministers' acceptance of gifts.

And then there's this bit:

To avoid creating or appearing to create an obligation, gifts in cash or kind are not to be solicited or accepted from a commercial enterprise or any other organisation, either in New Zealand or overseas. An exception to this principle would be the acceptance of some small unsolicited token, such as a presentation made during a visit to a marae or a factory. If a Minister wishes to keep a gift worth more than the prescribed value, the Minister may choose to pay full value for it. The gift still needs to be disclosed to the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament, although an explanatory note might be added.
(Emphasis added)

Key's declaration of interests is full of corporate gifts. No such explanatory note has been added to the register. So, its worth asking: did Key pay for those gifts? Or is he in violation of the Cabinet Manual? Questions should be asked in Parliament to get to the bottom of this.

(And while they're at it, they could ask why the administrative procedures around authorising the retention of gifts are a fucking shambles, with no real mechanism to track whether retention of a gift has been authorised or not).