Friday, June 07, 2024

Ministerial conflicts of interest

Since the National government came to power, it has been surrounded by allegations of conflicts of interest. Firstly, there's the fast-track law, which concentrates power in the hands of three Ministers, some of whom have received donations from companies whose projects they will be deciding on. Secondly, there's the close ties of certain Ministers to the industries they are regulating. More generally, the National Party received over $10 million in electoral donations during the last election cycle, and ACT over $4 million. No-one who isn't a politician believes that those donors won't want something for their money. Prime Minister Chris Luxon's response to this has been to hide behind Cabinet's conflict-of interest procedures, which he calls "incredibly good". The problem is that those procedures don't reassure the public, producing only an intentionally vague statement of conflicts once a year. And back when these concerns were being raised, the most recent such statement was released in December 2023, and covered only the former Labour government. No information was available about the conflicts of the current government.

So, I asked, filing an OIA request seeking up-to-date information on cabinet conflicts of interest. I was backed in this by the previous Ombudsman's 2012 decision on the issue, which found that there was no good reason to withhold information on actions taken to mitigate such conflicts. DPMC responded on Wedenesday, releasing the information. They've since posted it to the web.

As for what it shows, well, its the usual anodyne list which never states what the conflict actually is. But through all the intentional vagueness, you can see what's not there: the high-profile links between certain ministers and certain industries, and the publicly identified donations to certain Ministers by people seeking decisions from them. Apparently, the Cabinet Office doesn't think these are important enough to require declaration, let alone management. The public, I think, will disagree.