Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Another trust problem

Today transport Minister Michael Wood was stood down after failing to properly declare a conflict of interest. He'd bought shares in Auckland airport "as a teenager", hidden them in a trust when he became an MP, and failed to declare them for seven years, for three of which he was Transport Minister. While the amount of money involved - $13,000 - is small compared to his $296,007 plus slush annual salary - it is far below the standard of conduct we expect from MPs, let alone Ministers. As I noted back in 2011, when Hekia Parata was caught with an undeclared shareholding in Contact Energy while Minister of Energy, 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.

Standing Wood down is the right decision. Forcing him to sell his shareholding and going over anything else he owns with a fine-toothed comb for other undeclared conflicts of interest also seems justified. Because if he's hidden one thing, the presumption should be that he's also hiding other things, and he should not re-enter public life until he's proved himself clean.

This mess also once again shows the ongoing problem of trusts in undermining public confidence in politicians. Normal people don't have trusts. They're used exclusively by rich people to dodge taxes, criminals to launder money, and politicians to hide their interests and enable corruption. Our political institutions simply should not tolerate them. We should bust the trusts, end secrecy, and force full disclosure so we can all see whether our politicians are clean. As for us voters, we can and should judge the honesty of politicians with trusts at the ballot box.