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Worth’s story unravels

Written By: - Date published: 3:54 am, March 31st, 2009 - 57 comments
Categories: corruption - Tags:

Despite getting a “bollocking” from John Key, Richard Worth last night denied that he had been acting as a minister when he went around India promoting flight training provided by a company he had shares in. Unfortunately for Worth, they have the internet in India too:

Indian Express 28 Feb 2009 ‘My personal commitment to Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal is that New Zealand will be committed to improve efficiency and productivity of the farmers in the state by providing them technology transfer in agriculture, horticulture and dairy sector,’ said Dr Richard Worth, Minister of Crown, New Zealand.
In an exclusive interview with Newsline, Worth said: ‘We can contribute a lot to agri-technology as our farmers became self-sufficient after the Government stopped giving them any subsidy a few years ago. According to our estimates, some 20 per cent of the perishable items in India are affected due to lack of technology. We can help here with our advance technology which ensures more storage life for vegetables and meat products.’
Worth said Tata, Kingfisher and Reliance are household names in New Zealand. ‘Ten per cent of the total population of our country, around two million, comprises Indians. Of this, 10 per cent, around 1.22 lakh, are Punjabis. Our embassy in Delhi issued 30,000 visitor visas last year and of this, 50 per cent were from this region. These exclude the student and business visas.’
‘Our visa rate is 88 per cent. This will also improve in the coming days with more student and visitor visas. We will be making it easy to get visitor visa as the rules will be relaxed and same will be done for business visas to attract more investment, especially in infrastructure, construction, telecom, energy and tourism.’ he said.
‘For students who want to study in New Zealand, the Civil Aviation sector has a lot of scope. One can get a Commercial Pilot Licence in our country in only eight months at the cost of 70,000 New Zealand Dollars, around Rs 18 lakh, from Southern Institute of Technology Civil Aviation Limited,’ he added.
Worth said: ‘We have asked the government to start a direct flight between India and Auckland and also an India Trade Centre in Auckland.’ (big ups to gobsmacked for the find)

UNP 27 Feb 2009 ‘A new chapter began in the bilateral relations of Punjab and New Zealand as both entered into two Memorandums of Understanding, declaring Waitkere and Amritsar cities as Sister cities and to provide training to Punjab pilots in New Zealand.In a formal ceremony held here today, representatives of Punjab and New Zealand signed two MoUs in the august presence of Deputy Chief Minister S. Sukhbir Singh Badal and New Zealand delegation led by their Internal Affairs Minister Dr. Richard Worth OBE.’ (credit to rOb for this one)

Worth is talking as a minister and he is promoting his flight school in the same interview. Then he signed an MOU as minister to advantage the flight school. He had an actual conflict of interest and, worse, he lied about it.

Key promised us a new era of accountabilty. Looks like we’re about to find out what Key’s word is worth.

PS. Last night Annette King shied away from using the word corrupt. I hope Labour won’t today during Question Time. National was very successful in labelling the Labour government. If Labour won’t do the same, no-one else will do it for them.

57 comments on “Worth’s story unravels ”

  1. jtuckey 1

    At the very least Worth should be made to pay back the cost of flights and accommodation to and while in India.

    • r0b 1.1

      It’s my understanding that Worth paid for these privately. The issue is that while on a supposed “private” trip, he was touting himself as a Government minister, and drumming up trade for his own business. This is the kind of clear conflict of interest that MPs are required to avoid (as per Key’s own dodgy dealing over Tranz Rail shares for example).

      • jtuckey 1.1.1

        In that case I can see some COI involved as I’m pretty sure there are OPS that MPs are supposed to follow to stop this kind of thing occurring. I’d stop short of calling it corrupt though – corrupt is a different kettle of fish all together.

      • r0b 1.1.2

        A lot of the background to the issue of conflict of interest is set out in this post. As described in that post, Brownlee (like Key and Worth) has also been guilty of this kind of transgression. How many more?

      • Matthew Pilott 1.1.3

        Don’t ministers get about 90% off international air travel? We still paid for his flights… Who knows what other perks he used while over there.

  2. gingercrush 2

    Key was being accountable. He reprimanded Worth. Does that leave room for the left to attack on? Most certainly. Its something that enables Labour to actually have something. That those ministers allowed National something useful to use in question time so early on. Is surely a detriment to the National government and an advantage to Labour. Let’s see how useful Labour can be on the subject. Since this story may well continue all week till Friday and if they can find anymore on it can go into next week. But the reality is, that in political terms and how it is reported. A reprimand is actually serious. And Key was quick to say that wasn’t good enough. That is action, and its decisive. Leave things to fester then you’re in serious trouble. But of course Key didn’t do that.

    • r0b 2.1

      A reprimand is actually serious.

      Are you for real?

      If Key was “serious” about running a clean government, then Worth would be gone. But of course he isn’t serious at all.

      • gingercrush 2.1.1

        Yes you can play the dodgy game and corrupt line all you want. And sure it has some relevance. I’m not disputing that. Which is why Labour and other opposition need to go all-out in question time. Key though actually did something. He gave Worth a bollocking and a reprimand. And in political terms that is serious. Not as serious as forcing a MP to resign but nonetheless on its own serious.

        • Pascal's bookie 2.1.1.1

          So corruption isn’t a problem in and of itself, but only insofar as whether or not National can get away with it. Am I understanding your position?

          • gingercrush 2.1.1.1.1

            No I don’t see it as corrupt though the left are certainly entitled to label it as such.

          • Pascal's bookie 2.1.1.1.2

            Well that makes sense.

          • the sprout 2.1.1.1.3

            corruption is a problem in National when:

            a) you get caught

            b) what you get caught for reminds people that the PM also had a conflict of interest with his Tranzrail shares

            it seems to NOT be a problem for National if your actions have the potential to damage our export industry by tarnishing it with apparent corruption

  3. Good stuff Standard.

    To give the debate some context it would help to quote the Cabinet Manual provisions.

    Clauses 2.56 and 2.57 state:

    “Conflicts of interest may arise between Ministers’ personal interests and their public duty because of the influence and power that Ministers exercise, and the information to which they have access, both in the individual performance of their portfolio responsibilities and as members of the Executive … Ministers are responsible for ensuring that no conflict exists or appears to exist between their personal interests and their public duty. Ministers must conduct themselves at all times in the knowledge that their role is a public one; appearances and propriety can be as important as an actual conflict of interest.”

    This is really clear. Giving a speech as a minister and putting in a commercial plug that will benefit you privately is about as clear a conflict as you can get.

    Nothing this clear happened during Labour’s reign. Peters may have lied but even he did not use a ministerial speech to give a plug for one of his business interests. He is capable of the most crazy decisions however. His camel ride during the Anzac ceremony in 2002 is a classic example of this.

    Worth was previously a senior lawyer and partner of a downtown law firm. There is no way that he could plead ignorance.

    It would be interesting to know how the speech notes compare to the Departmental drafted speech. I suspect that a couple of additions will turn up.

    BTW the Herald have this story on page 6. Are their standards slipping?

    • Pascal's bookie 3.1

      Thanks Micky.

      Worth also knew well enough to pay for the trip himself. He asked permission from Key, (but left out his interest in the aviation school), but then went ahead and did what he did. It’s pretty clear cut.

    • Oops I mangled a sentence. Worth and not Peters had the camel ride in 2002.

  4. gingercrush 4

    The Herald didn’t break the story thus they’re pissed off so they sideline it.

    • the sprout 4.1

      yeah couldn’t be anything to do with the Herald trying to shield a lame duck government from any widespread public scrutiny about a very serious mistake.

      then again, considering their anti-EFA campaigning, perhaps the Herald doesn’t really understand the phrase ‘conflict of interest’?

      • gingercrush 4.1.1

        Only if you buy into the fact that media is bias against the left. Which doesn’t make sense when the right themselves see people as Guyon Espiner as liberals. In all, I think it very much has to do with they didn’t break it and less to do with any bias you’re trying to portray.

        • More importantly, what colored tie was he wearing?

          Always a good laugh when they make a big deal over Mr Garner wearing a red tie, of course, they don’t even notice when he wears a blue one.

        • the sprout 4.1.1.2

          the media aren’t inherently biased left or right, they’re biased towards their own business interests. that tends to make them pro-rigt, but they’ll happily change horses if they consider a left government to be pro their interests.

  5. Tim Ellis 5

    This does seem to be unfortunate. I don’t know where Worth got the figure of 2 million New Zealanders being Indian, or 10% of the population being Indian, or 10% of the population being two million people.

    It isn’t a good look for him to be pumping the flight school, though. The interview appears to have covered a wide range of issues and given some of the numbers above it does suggest that Worth might have been misquoted.

    I’m not sure it’s a hanging offence, but it is not a good look and I think John Key should be asking some serious questions about it. To term it as corruption is going a bit far though.

    • r0b 5.1

      To term it as corruption is going a bit far though.

      I agree. It’s dumb, sloppy, greedy, against the law, and an abuse of power. But the term “corrupt” has become thoroughly, thoroughly overused in our political lexicon, wouldn’t you say?

      • Tigger 5.1.1

        Agreed – it isn’t a firing offence nor is it ‘corrupt’ but it is an abuse of power (and possibly fraudulent?) and adds to the growing list of cock-ups by this new government. The honeymoon being over is one thing but National do you really want to start grounds for divorce so soon in your term?

        Of course, if most other people had done something like this in their job they’d probably be fired for gross misconduct and a ‘reprimand’ looks like a rather watery way to deal with it. Which begs the question, how much longer will Key get away with saying ‘I’ve reprimanded him/her’ (code for ‘yes, he really screwed up and if I was in private practice then I’d fire him but I can’t because I’m in the government now and can’t afford to piss off one of the ones who might turn against me in the inevitable coup that’s coming in 12 months’)? I think he’s probably got another two or three of these types of screw-ups before someone’s head needs to roll…

    • George Darroch 5.2

      It’s a confusing sentence. He says (as far as I can tell, that there are 122,000 people who claim Indian descent in NZ. That’s about right.

      But he also says 2 million, and I have no idea what he’s referring to there. Perhaps half of NZers don’t count?

      That would explain why they think that “most” New Zealanders will be better off with National’s tax cuts too.

      • George Darroch 5.2.1

        Wait that was 122,000 Punjabis, ten percent of the Indian population.

        Given that he lies/misleads about Tata and Reliance being household names in the lines above, I’m not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  6. tsmithfield 6

    I noticed on Breakfast this morning that Paul Henry commented on how disgusting it was to shake Worth’s hands. He suggested that Worth’s hands were moist/slimy.

    At least he is consistent in remarking on personal qualities of individuals.

  7. Tim

    Saying it is not a good look is like saying the Titanic suffered a bit of a mishap.

    Helen moved people out for lesser offences.

    The right have continuously thrown the word “corruption” around about such things as a speeding police car, a misplaced tennis ball, signing of a painting given to a charity and drink driving.

    They can hardly complain if the favour is returned to them.

    The situation can be more accurately described as a Minister using his Ministerial position to gain privately. This is clearly a sacking offence and Worth should go.

  8. Tim Ellis 8

    Micky, I don’t know if it is a sacking offence. Given the fairly obvious factual inconsistencies in the report, I wouldn’t necessarily take it at face value.

    The more I think about it however the more I believe that if the substance of the report is accurate, and Worth did use his Ministerial position to advance his private interests, then he needs to be disciplined. At best it’s fair to say that if the news report is accurate, he didn’t do enough to avoid the perception of conflict of interest.

    I don’t believe you can automatically assume that Worth knowingly and actively used his ministerial position for private gain. That is a very serious allegation and I’m certainly not brave enough to make that claim against a senior lawyer who is perfectly capable of defending his reputation if defamed.

    I think Worth has some explaining to do. Good on the Standard for raising the issue but be very careful about destroying a person’s reputation if you can’t defend your position in court.

    • r0b 8.1

      I don’t know if it is a sacking offence.

      It’s certainly much more serious than the transgression for which Key called so vigourously for Labour MP Damien O’Connor to be sacked:

      Key gave former senior Labour minister Damien O’Connor heaps over his alleged conflict of interest when he allowed the husband of one of his secretaries – who was suspended from his job as a prison guard – to travel on a taxpayer-assisted trip to the Parliamentary Rugby World Cup.

      Indeed, Key said at the time that O’Connor was guilty of “unbelievable stupidity” and should be sacked.

      So why the inconsistency?

    • Kevin Welsh 8.2

      “…but be very careful about destroying a person’s reputation if you can’t defend your position in court.”

      Try peddling this line at KiwiBlog Tim, and see how far you get.

      • Tim Ellis 8.2.1

        Kevin, if people are going to make defamatory remarks alleging corruption and illegal activity against a Member of Parliament, I would expect them to have the courage to use their own names. I don’t have anything to do with Kiwiblog other than as an occasional commenter and I would expect DPF wouldn’t want to expose himself to litigation through other people’s recklessness.

        • r0b 8.2.1.1

          I would expect them to have the courage to use their own names.

          You really haven’t got the hang of blogs yet Tim, have you. This is typically the line you wheel out when you have resoundingly lost the debate.

          What difference does anyone’s online name make? How does anyone know that “Tim Ellis” is your “real name”? Unless or until there is system for securely and reliably verifying online identities (that people actively choose to participate in) a handle is just a handle.

          It’s about the quality of the arguments that are made Tim, not the online handles that people choose.

          Oh and furthermore, I don’t recall any instance of you running this line against a single right wing troll alleging corruption in the Labour government during the last election campaign. Why was that Tim?

          • Tim Ellis 8.2.1.1.1

            r0b, this is not about the quality of arguments. I have often debated with you and many other anonymous commentators on issues. My point specifically relates to anonymous commentators making defamatory allegations and exposing others to their reckless comments.

            r0b I’m not responsible for the behaviour of right-wing trolls just as I don’t expect you to be responsible for the behaviour of left-wing trolls. On the issue of anonymous right-wing trolls making defamatory comments I have just as dim a view of them as I do of left-wing ones.

            I don’t recall you making an issue of Labour’s breaches of the Electoral Finance Act, despite you advocating that it was good and necessary law during its passing. I don’t recall you backing down from that view despite the Labour Party doing so. I don’t expect you to justify it anyway. I expect you to comment and discuss issues that are important to you.

          • r0b 8.2.1.1.2

            r0b, this is not about the quality of arguments

            No it isn’t, you’ve taken it on to an irrelevant tangent about online identities.

            anonymous commentators making defamatory allegations

            If you think an allegation is defamatory that’s up to you (as is the threat of lawyers, a favourite tool for trying to shut down opposition). But the fact that the handle is “anonymous” is neither here nor there – it’s just a little obsession of yours that you keep coming back to.

        • mickysavage 8.2.1.2

          Tim

          My own comment was quite reserved. Most of the other comments are the same. I guess that we (lefties) get somewhat pissed off because over at Kiwiblogland Helen is practically accused of eating babies live and there is never any second thought about it. But over here the D word keeps being used every time a legitimate concern is raised.

          Of course the matter needs further investigation because the numbers are odd. But it would be hard pressed to imagine that Worth said “Massey University School of Aviation” when what was reported was “Southern Institute of Technology Civil Aviation Limited”.

          Worth is also a public figure. Qualified privilege applies. As long as there is not malice then they are fair game. The comments that I have read here are not radical.

          To refine what I said before if it is shown that Worth, during the course of giving a Ministerial Speech, advocated or supported the use of a commercial entity that he had an interest in and from which he would receive a financial benefit from, then that is inappropriate and in my view he should no longer be a Minister.

  9. Tim Ellis 9

    I really don’t see the similarity or comparison at all r0b.

    There are clearly a range of sanctions available to the Prime Minister when holding Ministers to account. Some of them are:

    1. Private dressing-down, no further discipline.

    2. Public dressing down and humiliation, requirement for apology, no further action.

    3. Public dressing down and humiliation, suspension and full investigation.

    4. Public dressing down and humiliation, suspension, full investigation, demotion or removal of portfolio.

    5. Public dressing down and humiliation, suspension, full investigation, sacking.

    The sanctions that the PM uses are dependent on the scale of the offence, and how often the Minister has offended. Helen Clark gave considerably more leeway to some Ministers than others and allowed some Ministers to get away with more than others.

    It doesn’t look like Richard Worth’s actions, a first offence as a Minister, warrant sacking. Worth’s actions, if correct, were unwise and messy he didn’t do enough to avoid a potential conflict of interest, which is a breach of the Cabinet Manual.

    Worth has since resigned from the aviation school and the Indian business association, and has received a public dressing down from Key. I don’t imagine there will be any tolerance for further transgressions from him, but on the scale of things I don’t think there’s any evidence that Worth wilfully used his public office for private gain. I think the sanctions have been appropriate.

    • Matthew Pilott 9.1

      It doesn’t look like Richard Worth’s actions, a first offence as a Minister, warrant sacking.

      So why, according to Key, did O’Connor’s actions require a sacking?

      If you don’t think that he did, then you’ll have to agree Key’s running a ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ approach.

  10. Tigger 10

    This was actually a prime opportunity for Key to get rid of Worth (who has a profile for being lazy and ‘dead wood’, lets face it) and elevate a newbie to a Ministerial post.

    The public service can rightly wonder why they’re getting booted up and down the street (not to mention made redundant left and right) but this type of behaviour just warrants a ‘reprimand’.

  11. the sprout 11

    Seems like damaging our international reputation and competitiveness as an honest trading partner isn’t a sacking offence for National.

  12. “Two million“?

    Are there perhaps some problems in translation, here?

  13. Kevin Welsh 13

    Mind you, it would be a bit hypocritical of Key to sanction Worth after using Parliament to glean information about a company he has/had a shareholding in.

  14. aj 14

    Southland Institute of Technology CEO Penny Simmons is reported as saying that Worth told her prior to his trip that he had stepped down from directorships.

    Worth responded by saying she ‘must have got his conversation confused’

    Southland Times this morning.

    • Kevin Welsh 14.1

      And the lies keep getting bigger…

      Six month into this Government and so far we have Collins, Smith and now Worth all showing their true colours.

      If we are going to apply the same standards that those on the right applied to the previous Government then calling for these clowns to be sacked is neither unfair, nor unwarranted.

  15. gobsmacked 15

    Labour have (inevitably) put down Questions for both Key and Worth in the House this afternoon. Should be fun. Also Mallard is pursuing Bennett (i.e. Nick Smith) on ACC again.

    Memo to the Labour team (because we know you guys read this blog!):

    Do NOT waste time and energy arguing with the referee, as you did last week. Mallard made himself the issue, and nearly got thrown out, and so let Bennett/Smith off the hook. Dumb.

    Short, sharp questions, and quick follow-up. With all your experience, you guys should know how to do this by now. Lift your game.

  16. Quoth the Raven 16

    I/S makes a good point today:

    Then there’s this bit (as reported by the Herald):
    Mr Key said he would not have sanctioned the trip if he had known Dr Worth was a director and shareholder in an aviation company which was in a joint venture with an Invercargill flight training academy.
    But isn’t it his job to know? The relevant facts are right there in Worth’s statement of pecuniary interests [PDF], and are presumably in the equivalent Cabinet version as well. Does Key bother to read these? Or does he just turn a blind eye?

    So either Key doesn’t do his job and is as incompetent as we all thought or he knew about Worth’s conflict of interest and turns a blind eye to corruption either way it doesn’t bode well for the smiling assassin.

  17. gingercrush 18

    What the hell is Goff doing in the house. He’s falling apart.

  18. gobsmacked 19

    Ginger

    You made a wee typo there – the name is spelt Worth.

    Ah, the arrogance of power. I’m afraid it did for Benson-Pope, caught in a denial, and now it will finish off Worth. All he had to do today was appear contrite and he could have killed the story. Instead he stood up in the House and categorically denied he acted as a Minister at any time during the India trip.

    This will be very surprising news to his gracious hosts!

    Now, what’s the international dialing code for India, it’s time to make a few phone calls …

    • gingercrush 19.1

      Well that came later. And yes Worth is positively useless. But Goff was just terrible today. He allowed just one question? This is the one thing Labour has really had since they’ve been in opposition and all they could do was that performance in the house? Pretty lousy. Hodgson was better but I don’t think he carried himself well either.

  19. bobo 20

    Worth was sweating like a pig in the house today you could see homer simpson thought bubbles radiating from his head “what do I say , What do I say, hmm , entertaining expenses, donuts, mmmmm donuts” “I don’t recall”

  20. Quoth the Raven 21

    Didn’t Worth say “I don’t have an erection” than corrected it by saying “I don’t have any recollection”

  21. gobsmacked 22

    Check this out.

    Richard Worth, speaking today in the House:

    “I did not speak as a Minister of any portfolio at any event or ceremony during my visit to India.”

    Now, where can we find clear evidence of the Minister speaking in India as, er … a Minister? Some dodgy leftie gossip blog, perhaps?

    Answer: The Minister’s own website:

    http://www.richardworth.co.nz/uploads/Minister2.JPG

    Oh dear.

  22. sweeetdisorder 23

    Gobsmacked

    that shows nothing of the sort. Yes, he is a Minister, but in what capacity was he there?

    As it wasn’t a state funded trip its more likely he was not there wearing his Minister hat. Clark used to play this game as well, she would often change her hats from PM to Labour Party Leader as it suited he, same here me thinks. Not a good look for Worth, but, after the performance of Goff in QT today I can’t see any legs on this one.

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