Once again the play is performed. A minister is caught rorting, admits wrong-doing, an investigation is launched, the investigation doesn’t ask crucial questions, it finds no fault just confusion on the part of the poor old minister, the rules are changed. English, Worth, Heatley, Wong… all the same. These farces need a new script.
Bill English was living in his family house in Wellington but getting ministerial services to pay to rent it for his family from his family trust as his ‘out of town’ accommodation. Eventually, English paid back some of what he had stolen. But the report said it was all the fault of the confusing rules (that, somehow, had failed to confuse anyone but National’s smartest minister). Poor old English didn’t get punished. Instead, the rules got changed (and, now, ministerial housing allowances are being rorted more and are costing more than ever).
Richard Worth was promoting his business interests while abroad but apparently it was all innocent confusion, if you believe the official investigation. It wasn’t until John Key learned of something else that Worth got sacked.
Phil Heatley was in tears when he got caught in his abuse of his ministerial credit card for private use. He knew he had done wrong and repaid the money. But, according to the investigation, the rules were confusing.
Now, the Wong report.
Again, we have a minister who has already admitted wrongdoing and lost her job because she couldn’t guarantee her PM that she hadn’t abused her travel perks on more than one occasion. Yet, the report finds “no systematic abuse” of the rorts (as if ‘just once’ is OK).
How does the report manage to avoid any serious finding against Wong?
1) It doesn’t look at the relevant flights. Yup, that’s had to believe, eh? But remember how we’ve been talking about the incredible 10 overseas trips that Wong took during her time as minister, five of them to China where he husband’s business interests are? Well, this report only covers one of those flights – the December 2008 trip where Wong witnessed papers for her husband as a minister.
All the other flights that the report looks at are from before she was a minister and before Sammy Wong had business interests in China.
To be fair, the reason that the report doesn’t look at the flights that matter is because they were paid for by ministerial services and this was a parliamentary service report but surely the terms of reference should have been written more broadly.
It’s hardly bloody surprising that we don’t find the Wongs engaging in business activities in China before they had business interests there. Crucially, though, the one trip to China after those business interests developed that was investigated did result in an abuse of the perk. The other trips need to be investigated too.
2) the report’s author relied on the Wongs’ description of the purpose of travel. In what perverted world do you rely solely on the information provided by the accused to judge their actions?
Phil Goff is calling for an Auditor-General’s report. I don’t have much faith it will be done any better, but I guess it’s all we’ve got.
Update: John Armstrong calls the investigation inadequate and says the A-G needs to investigate. What’s the harm in that Mr Key?