Thursday, November 21, 2019

If Shane Jones isn't corrupt, he is trying very hard to look it

Last week we learned that New Zealand First had apparently tried to enrich itself from public office, with a dodgy forestry company linked to a number of NZ First figures sticking its hand out repeatedly for government money. Today in Question Time Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones had his first opportunity to answer questions for himself on the issue (previously, others had been answering on his behalf). But when asked simple questions about what he knew and when, he did his utmost to cloud the issue:

CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: On what date was N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd's application to the Provincial Growth Fund lodged, and when did he first become aware that N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd had applied to the Provincial Growth Fund?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): I am advised the application was lodged on 8 April. I found out that the application was coming to Ministers for consideration on 14 October.

He was rightly pulled up for not answering, so refined it to saying that he "became aware that the company had applied to the Provincial Growth Fund on 14 October." Which seems like a straight answer. Except when asked whether he had not been aware of the application at any time over the 6 month interval in between, he refused to give a straight answer, and talked only of when he became "formally" aware. And he clung to that when asked repeatedly whether he was informally aware, or aware in any way of the application whatsoever.

At any time, Jones could have ended speculation over his guilt by simply saying that no, he was not aware. His repeated refusal to do so invites the conclusion that he was, and that he behaved corruptly by not immediately declaring a conflict of interest and recusing himself. If he's not corrupt, he is working very, very hard to look that way, and he has no-one to blame but himself for the conclusions the public draw from his non-answers.