Porsches, palaces – prom­ises and pain

Central Leader - - News -

“The court of pub­lic opin­ion” was an apt def­i­ni­tion from He­len Clark – with per­haps wider ap­pli­ca­tions than she in­tended.

The prime min­is­ter used it as she tip-toed around the “Pay­ments­for-Peters?” rum­pus. Still de­cid­edly guarded – even what TV would rate as ‘tight-lipped” – in her pub­lic views on the is­sue, on the same day she added in pol­i­tics-speak:

“Stands have been taken over a pe­riod of time which could be read as be­ing in con­tra­dic­tion to what is emerg­ing in the pub­lic arena.”

In dif­fer­ent, nonMMP cir­cum­stances, she might have trot­ted out that well-worn ad­vice about peo­ple whose ad­vice is “do what I say, not what I do.”

Only time will tell whether the Teflon “noth­ing sticks” rep­u­ta­tion that Win­ston Peters has ac­quired dur­ing his long and tem­pes­tu­ous ca­reer in pol­i­tics will out­last his “stands taken over a pe­riod of time” and the cur­rent litany of con­tra­dic­tions.

In the mean­time, we have that legacy of “the court of pub­lic opin­ion” which fits an­other set of ma­jor head­lines so well and so trag­i­cally.

Ac­cord­ing to cred­i­ble money coun­ters, the to­tal of New Zealand in­vestor funds af­fected by fi­nance com­pa­nies, funds and mort­gage trusts that col­lapsed or de­faulted in just over two years is around $4.5 bil­lion. And count­ing.

Tens of thou­sands of in­vestors had their life­time sav­ings, their nest eggs for old age, their spe­cial projects ac­counts wiped out overnight. No warn­ings. Big names and con­ve­niently face­less man­age­ments stand charged in the He­len Clark court of pub­lic opin­ion over those shock­ing col­lapses.

As cor­po­rate name af­ter cor­po­rate name joined the list of to­tally un­ex­pected and some­times de­lib­er­ately hid­den slides to ruin have been re­vealed, pub­lic shock and anger have grown. For good rea­son. Com­pa­nies so­licited mum and dad in­vest­ment through glossy and in­ac­cu­rate brochures and the TV blan­dish­ments from familiar, trusted per­son­al­i­ties some­times only hours be­fore be­ing forced to re­veal their dis­as­trous state.

They can ex­pect no mercy from their thou­sands of heart-bro­ken and im­pov­er­ished vic­tims now ju­rors in that “court of pub­lic opin­ion” Nor should they.

For their part, those vic­tims – naive, ill-ad­vised, even reck­less, as they may have been – call for ac­tion.

They want the full weight of the for­mal court and in­quiry sys­tems to name and shame those whose lack of judge­ment, in­com­pe­tence and pos­si­ble crim­i­nal ac­tions caused or abet­ted this se­ries of events.

You can un­der­stand those who have had the car­pet of se­cu­rity pulled from un­der them want­ing the same fate for the Porsche-and-palaces peo­ple they trusted and who they be­lieve be­trayed them.

To para­phrase a po­lit­i­cally and strate­gi­cally care­ful He­len Clark over that other mat­ter: “As­sur­ances were given, prom­ises were made and re­stated end­lessly un­til what, in cor­po­rate terms, was the last minute.

“Th­ese pledges and im­plicit as­sur­ances were in many cases to­tally wrong, could even have been de­lib­er­ately mis­lead­ing.”

In the longer term, pub­lic con­fi­dence in the cor­po­rate struc­tures in­volved has gone, if not for good then jus­ti­fi­ably for a very long time.

Now while those at the heart of it all are pre­sum­ably plot­ting re­build­ing their port­fo­lios, even the most sweep­ing fire sale of Porsches and prop­er­ties would not re­pay those in­vestors fac­ing crip­pling debt and bleak fu­tures.

There are few signs of gen­uine re­morse, just shoul­der-shrug­ging in their Ar­mani suits from those who mis­called the shots and were silent when rules of hon­esty de­manded that they make the facts clear to those whose fu­ture was in dan­ger and who were en­ti­tled to know.

The prin­ci­pals whose prin­ci­ples are un­der so much fire rarely show ob­vi­ous con­cern over what they have done to the lives of peo­ple whose only fault was to be­lieve what the snake oil money men told them.

There’s al­most an “if you can’t stand the heat, keep out of the kitchen” approach.

Vic­tims took at face value those un­soundly­based prom­ises.

In some cases, pledges might be held – even proven – to be de­lib­er­ately mis­lead­ing in He­len Clark’s newly sworn-in court of pub­lic opin­ion.

Your ver­dict? In the mail­bag on the dan­ger in the streets and to prop­erty, plus the prob­lems of cit­i­zen ar­rest. From Mark Brown, Otahuhu ser­vice sta­tion owner, whose orig­i­nal let­ter prompted the de­bate:

“I don’t want to leave you or the read­ers with the im­pres­sion that the 25 or so crimes listed in my let­ter oc­curred over my seven years here in New Zealand.

“Many read­ers might think that about four crimes per year is what we each should be happy to ‘pay the ca­reer crim­i­nals – af­ter all they have to make a liv­ing too.

“No – all those crimes oc­curred in the last year – seven ‘drive­offs’ usu­ally with stolen plates, two break-ins in the last year – one cost us af­ter in­sur­ance $4000 and days of dis­rup­tion – an ex­tor­tion, count­less shoplift­ings, a car stolen, two oth­ers bro­ken into and ran­sacked, four thefts by fraud.

“My let­ter would have been much longer if I listed seven years of crimes.” From R Cague, Birk­dale: “Your col­umn once again high­lights the is­sues sur­round­ing the lack of vic­tims’ rights when con­fronted by a po­ten­tial crim­i­nal.

“If you catch some­one tres­pass­ing, act­ing sus­pi­ciously, or bla­tantly com­mit­ting a crime, the only thing that fel­low law-abid­ing cit­i­zens can do is tell them off.

“Some­how I don’t think that if you tell them to ‘wait a minute while I call the cops’ they’ll be hang­ing around. If some­one threat­ens my fam­ily or prop­erty, I would like to be able to de­fend it.

“Sure, whack­ing the po­ten­tial crim­i­nal with a length of tim­ber may be classed as as­sault with a deadly weapon, but too of­ten we hear of home in­va­sions where the in­no­cent vic­tims were given the bash.

“A vic­tim re­mains a vic­tim for life hav­ing to deal with phys­i­cal and men­tal trauma; the crim­i­nals have no con­sid­er­a­tion for how their ac­tions af­fect their vic­tims.

“Law-abid­ing cit­i­zens are not only af­fected by the crim­i­nals’ ac­tions, but by the laws and jus­tice sys­tem that seem more set up to pro­tect the rights of the crim­i­nal.

“It is the un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stance that a ma­jor­ity of stores tar­geted by opportunist rob­bers are mostly run by Asians.

“As your col­umn made clear, it’s not just the Asian com­mu­nity that’s fed up with be­ing vic­tims.”

To con­tact Pat Booth email: off­pat@snl. co.nz. All replies are open for pub­li­ca­tion un­less marked Not For Pub­li­ca­tion.

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