Transparency and perception – four easy pieces

Political figures (and those in the public service who might wish to become political figures) appear to have a real problem with making judgement calls on how their actions will be perceived by the public. Let’s take a look at four recent examples – for no reason other than that we can!

Example the First: Shane Taurima

A good journalist should appear to be impartial. A good journalist employed by the state broadcaster, TVNZ, should be doubly so. That’s not to say that they can’t have their own political beliefs, but the public shouldn’t see those beliefs as colouring editorial decision or journalistic content.*

One may very well think that it would be obvious to a good journalist that if they held Labour party meetings on TVNZ property, and that if someone were to leak that information to a rival channel, that the public may very well hold the perception that there was and had been a left-wing bias to said journalist’s content and said TV station’s Maori-Pacifica unit.

Example the Second: Judith Collins

The Cabinet Office Manual is very specific about managing conflicts of interest and perceptions of conflicts of interest.

Thus, when one is a Minister of the Crown, and one’s husband is the director of a company that has given a lot of money to the National party to which one belongs, and one is very close friends with the company’s chairman, and one visits the company’s China office to have a glass of milk (I mean, seriously, who stops in for a glass of milk?) after having previously met the company’s chairman for dinner (at which was present a Chinese border control official), (pause for breath), SURELY one would consider that the public may very well perceive that one’s actions were intended to benefit the company and therefore indirectly benefit one’s husband and therefore oneself?

And would one not consider that initially hiding the fact that one had had dinner with the company’s chairman and a Chinese border control official might very well increase the perception that one’s actions had been designed to benefit the company, one’s husband and oneself?

But according to Ms Collins, that’s just rubbish. Self-awareness is not perhaps her strong suit.

Example the Third: Parmjeet Parmar

Stuff.co.nz reports that Parmjeet Parmar, a current commissioner with the Families Commission, was spotted at the Pasifika Festival sporting a blue National party rosette, campaigning with John Key.

If the allegation is correct (and Ms Parmar does not appear to have denied that she wore a blue rosette as a fashion accessory), one wonders how a supposedly politically-neutral state servant could possibly think that wearing a blue National party rosette and campaigning with the Prime Minister wouldn’t create the perception that the Families Commission was somewhat politicised…

And it really must said that the Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, really didn’t help matters when she stated:

“I have known Dr Parmar for several years and I am well aware of her political views – she brings extensive knowledge and professionalism to her role in the Families Commission.”

Yes, Minister, of course you will speak favourably of her if you’re well aware of her political views – and they are aligned with your own.

Example the Fourth: Maurice Williamson, John Banks and Donghua Liu

And another citizenship scandal breaks involving a Mr Liu, albeit a different Mr Liu on this occasion to Shane Jones’ favourite Mr Liu of Auditor-General investigations past.

In brief:

– Mr Liu applies for NZ citizenship, but the DIA recommends his application be declined on the grounds that he doesn’t spend enough time in NZ and he can’t speak English to the requisite level.
– Mr Liu’s business partners approach Maurice Williamson (Minister of Building and Construction) and John Banks (then-Mayor of Auckland City), who write to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Nathan Guy, recommending that Mr Liu be granted citizenship regardless.
– Mr Liu is granted citizenship in 2010.
– Two years later, Mr Liu’s company, Roncon Pacific Hotel Management, makes a $22,000 donation to the National party.

The Auditor-General’s report into the first Mr Liu stated:

“[i]t is clear that the apparent links between different applicants and their agents, or supporters, coupled with strong support from various MPs and subsequent questions from the minister or ministerial officials caused disquiet among some citizenship officers.”

And that, although there was nothing wrong or improper with MPs advocating on behalf of constituents in citizenship cases:

“However, advocacy of this kind, in particular where the advocate is a fellow MP or known to the minister, clearly presents risks to the integrity of the decision-making system and to the reputations of those involved.”

Yup, it looks bad when a rich property developer’s rich mates go to their friends in Government, and suddenly the DIA’s recommendation is overturned. What could Mr Williamson and Mr Banks have said to Mr Guy that could not have been said by Mr Liu’s friends as part of his application for citizenship? That the rules about time spent in NZ were outdated? That submission could surely have been made directly to Mr Guy? The use of MPs and Mayors as go-betweens to the Minister of Internal Affairs invites the perception that all was not above board.

And did it not occur to Mr Liu that to then make a significant donation to the National party (albeit two years later) invites the perception that a favour has been paid for?

* At the time that the Taurima scandal and resignation unfolded, a number of left wing commentators held up the example of Paul Henry as a defence. Many other commentators have pointed out just why that example was flawed. I’d just like to note that surely no one actually considers Paul Henry to be a “good journalist”?

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