- Date published:
8:33 am, June 3rd, 2015 - 20 comments
Categories: Globalisation, International, john key, national, national/act government, newspapers, same old national, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags: dominion post, fran o'sullivan, murray mccully, nz herald, sheepgate
“I expect high standards from my Ministers … if they don’t meet the standards I set then obviously I will take action if necessary”—John Key, November 2008
You have to wonder how Murry McCully is surviving the mess known as Sheepgate. With every further detail that is exposed the stench of what has happened grows stronger.
If John Key had kept to his promise of high standards McCully would be gone. But Key faces a difficult problem. If he sacks McCully the dark prince will spend his remaining time in politics undermining Key. And the Cabinet reshuffle will probably mean that Judith Collins will be returned.
The PR treatment of the expenditure shows clearly how shonky this deal is. Normally with this sort of proposal there would have been multiple press releases and ribbon cutting opportunities. But in this case there was nothing, nada, nil. This Government is so finely attuned to PR opportunities that an example of significant Government expenditure where there is no publicity whatsoever is reason for deep cynicism.
But I am just a left wing hack. Perhaps I should let others express their thoughts on the merits of Sheepgate.
Like Fran O’Sullivan. Agree or disagree with her she will always present a coherent thoughtful world view. Last Saturday she asked the relevant question, was the Saudi deal a bribe or a facilitation payment, with the implication that it was both. She discusses the morality of what has happened and comes up with this conclusion:
The reality is that what has been disclosed in this affair is a cavalier approach to securing international trade deals.
The straightforward approach – as with the Hollywood investors who threatened to bypass New Zealand if they did not get the help they wanted – would have been to simply say straight-up that the Government had made a decision to retain the ban on live sheep shipments and would compensate the Saudi businessmen who had invested on the basis of prior government policy commitments.
It would have been rightly embarrassing and would have caused great controversy.
But it would have been in the open.
This would have been far more preferable to the current situation where the Government has been confirmed as willing to buy its way into a free-trade deal through assuaging the private interests of an influential Saudi.
It does not pass muster.
Like the Herald Editorial from yesterday where the ethics of the sheepgate deal were questioned:
The Government would be well advised to put all its cards on the table for the public to see before this strange farm investment in Saudi Arabia is another day older. If New Zealand taxpayers have provided a Saudi businessman with a sheep farm in compensation for his loss of live sheep exports, it raises many more questions than Foreign Minister Murray McCully has been inclined to answer.
His manner of answering them gives the clear impression it is a deal the Government never intended the public to see but it is too late for that now. If there are confidences the Government has agreed to keep, it can break them. It is a government, answerable to its country, not to a sheep dealer, no matter how well connected to the Saudi regime he may be.
Even Tracy Watkins in this morning’s Dominion Post has called for a full investigation into what happened.
Opposition MPs have asked the auditor-general to investigate – let’s hope she does. The deal looks disturbingly like a case of the Government helping itself to wads of taxpayer cash simply to make a problem go away.
She expresses scepticism at the claim that the payment was to settle a legal issue and she concludes with these comments:
Some of the ensuing claims – that Al Khalaf threatened to sue New Zealand for tens of millions of dollars – have run up against scepticism from Opposition MPs, who have used parliamentary privilege to use words like “bribe” and “pay off” in relation to the deal.
That makes it even more imperative that there be some sunlight shed over the deal. Maybe the time has come for Key throw his weight behind the Opposition’s calls for an independent inquiry.
If Key expects high standards from his Ministers then there needs to be an inquiry into sheepgate. And McCully’s ministerial days must be numbered.
Update: It gets worse and worse. The Taxpayer’s Union have released this statement:
The Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s claim that the process which resulted in a company connected with Hmood Al Ali Al Khalaf being awarded the tender to develop the Saudi ‘Agri-hub’ was independently audited is false. Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director, Jordan Williams, says:
“After questions were raised by the Taxpayers’ Union, Trade and Enterprise claimed that the process was independently audited. We’ve now confirmed that the so called ‘independent auditor’ was none other than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – the same officials pushing for Mr Al Khalaf to be ‘compensated’. This new revelation is likely to lead to more questions about whether this whole affair is chequebook diplomacy gone wrong.”
Can anyone see the problem with an “independent tender audit” of NZTE being conducted by MFAT?
And no doubt Hansard is now being scrutinised. Opposition parties may be interested to note this comment from McCully made on May 26, 2015.
Hon MURRAY McCULLY : The contract for the lead provider’s position, which is what the member is referring to, was awarded through a tender process that was overseen by officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and an expert who was formerly the chief executive of Landcorp. I am satisfied that the New Zealand Government procurement requirements were met in that respect..
Someone needs to have a really good look at this matter.