They say in politics that a news story is good for the opposition/bad for the Government if it hits the media cycle two days in a row. If it appears for a third or a fourth day then it is a crisis and urgent action is required. The most extreme form of action is to throw a Minister or MP under a bus. If it is a public servant then the Government still thinks it is manageable but only just.
The unfortunate tale of the Taranaki Farm bought by a Mossack Fonseca company on behalf of a couple of Argentinian businessmen is still hitting the headlines a week after the story broke. First there was the fact that Mossack Fonseca was involved in the purchase of a farm. Then there was the unfortunate detail that the beneficial owners had criminal convictions for polluting an Argentinian river with carcinogenic material. Then questions were asked about how they could have possibly passed the good character test. The decision was made by Minister Louise Upston so obviously someone somewhere stuffed up.
The report to the Minister about the purchase is full of words but remarkably empty of content. A couple of things stand out. The document suggests that $2 million is being invested although this may be for further development. With a $4 million mortgage the amount of tax that will be paid is not high. The economic benefit is said to be the creation of 1.5, repeat 1.5 jobs.
The report refers to the checks that had been made to ascertain if the purchasers were really people of good character. It states “[w]e have also conducted relevant internet searches for relevant adverse information on those individuals and have found nothing relevant”.
It seems that this particular passage may not have been, how do you say, correct and makes you wonder at the quality of decision making by the OIO and also highlights repeated attempts to minimise what has happened here.
Originally the OIO said that it was satisfied with the process that it had taken in relation to the application. Then it decided to review matters because of the release of the “new” information. Then an independent inquiry was announced. Finally late yesterday the OIO apologised to the Government and said that a “robust inquiry” would be conducted. From media reports the OIO has acknowledged that it knew about the polluting conviction but did not include it in the advice to the Minister. Clearly some hapless public servant is in the process of being thrown under the bus.
It is not going to get easy for National. Not only will they have to explain how this misrepresentation was made but they will also have to explain how over 98% of all OIO applications are granted. You really get the feeling that a lot of rubber stamping may be going on and you have to wonder if the quality of many of the reports accompanying these applications is being compromised by a doctrine that thought that money coming in from overseas was a good thing.
But the really unfortunate fact is that the Taranaki farm has a stream on it. Someone of good character wanting to buy a property with a stream should not have convictions for dumping toxic material into the stream.
Louise Upston has said the mistake is a one off. David Cunliffe has stated he has other examples of companies that should have failed the good character test being granted OIO approval. This could get interesting …