An uned­i­fy­ing po­lit­i­cal cir­cus

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

The pub­lic last week had a cou­ple of be­hind-the-scenes peeps at the po­lit­i­cal cir­cus, and the sights weren’t pretty.

First, there was the the Au­dit Of­fice report into the de­ci­sions made by Labour MP Shane Jones, when he was As­so­ciate Min­is­ter of Im­mi­gra­tion.

The Au­di­tor-Gen­eral found no ev­i­dence that Jones’ de­ci­sion to grant cit­i­zen­ship to the Labour Party’s mil­lion­aire donor Wil­liam Liu against ad­vice from his of­fi­cials, had been due to ‘‘im­proper mo­tive, col­lu­sion, or po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence’’ on any­one’s part – but the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral crit­i­cised ‘‘most of those in­volved’’ in the Liu de­ci­sion. What the report re­vealed was a sys­tem in which wealthy ap­pli­cants for cit­i­zen­ship could di­rectly lobby min­is­ters and in which min­is­ters were busily lob­by­ing each other. Jones’ col­league Dover Sa­muels, for in­stance, re­port­edly wrote three let­ters on Liu’s be­half.

The of­fi­cials who ad­vised that Liu failed the ‘‘good char­ac­ter’’ grounds for cit­i­zen­ship were side­lined, and Jones used his min­is­te­rial dis­cre­tion to give the green light to Liu’s ap­pli­ca­tion.

Jones con­ceded last week he should have asked his of­fi­cials for more in­for­ma­tion, had alien­ated them and had been over-hasty in reach­ing his de­ci­sion.

Re­gard­less, the Au­dit Of­fice blamed the same of­fi­cials for not giv­ing more ad­vice to a min­is­ter who, at the time, was plainly not in­ter­ested in hear­ing it.

Jones is back on Labour’s front bench with his rep­u­ta­tion ap­par­ently re­stored and with min­is­te­rial of­fice in prospect again, should a Labour-led coali­tion win the next elec­tion.

If the Jones af­fair felt bad, the fin­ger-point­ing over the plunge into $389 mil­lion worth of debt by the state com­pany Solid En­ergy was even more un­savoury.

At first, former chief ex­ec­u­tive Don El­der was ab­sent from a par­lia­men­tary in­quiry, de­spite re­main­ing on full pay, courtesy of tax­pay­ers, to whom he seem­ingly no longer felt ac­count­able.

Af­ter Labour MP Clay­ton Cos­grove kicked up a me­dia fuss about his ab­sence, El­der even­tu­ally ap­peared be­fore the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee – but by then, the ques­tion of re­spon­si­bil­ity had be­come a hot potato busily be­ing tossed be­tween Solid En­ergy and the government.

Had Solid En­ergy re­luc­tantly taken on more debt un­der pres­sure from a government greedy for the div­i­dends that such ex­pan­sion might de­liver? Or, as the government in­ti­mated, had the en­ergy com­pany largely brought about its own demise via the likes of a $27 bil­lion ex­pan­sion plan that it briefly con­tem­plated?

State-Owned En­ter­prises Min­is­ter Tony Ryall and Prime Min­is­ter John Key seemed to dis­agree about whether the com­pany’s debt gear­ing had been, or hadn’t been, an im­por­tant con­tribut­ing fac­tor to Solid En­ergy’s plight.

No-one, it seemed, was tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the lack of a Plan B when the Chi­nese econ­omy went into a well- flagged down­turn, re­duc­ing its de­mand for coal and tak­ing the coal price and Solid En­ergy’s prof­its down.

There has also been no as­sess­ment as to how Solid En­ergy’s de­cline will af­fect the ex­pected re­turns (and al­ready shaky eco­nomic ra­tio­nale) in­volved in the plan to sell shares in the coun­try’s en­ergy as­sets.



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