Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Corruption on the ice

While everyone is looking at the blood on the tiles this morning from Iain Lees-Galloway's political demise, there's a real story which needs our attention: Winston Peters gave two rich friends a taxpayer-funded trip to Antarctica:

oreign Minister Winston Peters directed Antarctica New Zealand to give two highly-prized spots on a trip to the icy continent to two women closely linked to one of South East Asia's richest families.

Bee Lin Chew and her daughter Su Arn Kwek, who are dual Malaysian-New Zealand citizens, travelled to Scott Base, at taxpayer expense, in February after Antarctica New Zealand scrambled to make room for them at the insistence of Peters' office.

Emails released under the Official Information Act show Antarctica New Zealand pushing back at the request to include Chew and Kwek, as only one spot was available and that was supposed to be for a government minister.

Tax payer-funded Antarctica New Zealand initially warned that science programmes or essential staff may have to be cut to make room for the women. But it ultimately managed to fulfill the request without disruption to the programme and in line with the "firmly held" views from Peters' office.

There's no information on how much this cost, but the answer is likely to be substantial, both in the imputed cost of the seats and associated training, and the opportunity cost of not being able to fill them with scientists. These are not things you can just buy, time on the ice is horribly limited (and thus incredibly valuable). And here the Minister is dispensing it as a political favour in a clear abuse of office. The obvious question is whether there was a donation involved, and Chew explicitly denies this (though at the same time highlights how politically connected she is). But equally obviously, the donation or kickback didn't need to come from her. Winston says it was a favour to his "old friend" Philip Burdon, so I guess we need to ask what he was getting (or expects to get) in return? Cosying up for the post-retirement corporate directorships?

And regardless: even if simply done as a political favour, this is a corrupt abuse of office, and Winston needs to be held accountable for it. But of course, given the coalition dynamics, he won't. And thus the rot will be allowed to fester and spread. Unless of course we vote him and his party out in September.