OPINION: As the old saying goes Caesar’s wife must not only be above suspicion, but she must also be seen to be above suspicion.
Whilst in relation to suspicions about the appointment of relatives of Foreign Affairs and Local Government Minister Nania Mahuta’s to several government positions the gender roles are reversed the principle remains the same, there must be no suggestion of corruption, nepotism, or favouritism in an administration lest that suggestion damage public faith and trust in those in power.
But so far Labour is failing to adhere to the old Roman rules.
To sidestep any suggestion of nepotism in the appointment of her sister Tipa Mahuta to a role on a Maori Governance Group dealing with Three Waters Minister Mahuta took the most unusual step of standing down from her role as Minister for Maori Development so cabinet colleague Kelvin Davis would be the Minister making the appointment then resuming the role once her sister had been confirmed.
Any reasonable person would see that as the facilitation of a conflict of interest rather than an attempt to avoid one.
And it was it was done with the express approval of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Information released under the Official Information Act shows Jacinda Ardern “agreed to the transfer before it was put in place”.
So essentially the PM said yes to the political shell game that allowed a member of her cabinet to appoint her sister to a paid government position without anyone else being considered for the role.
And while there is information about why Jacinda Adern approved this act of deception she doesn’t want to reveal it.
The leader of what we were promised would be the most transparent government ever is essentially hiding behind the Secretary to Cabinet, Michael Webster who says in response to the OIA request,
“The Cabinet Office holds information that falls within the scope of this request. I am however withholding this information under the following sections of the OIA…..to maintain the constitutional conventions for the time being which protect the confidentiality of advice tendered by Ministers of the Crown and officials.”
In other words, we’ve found some workaround to cover up the workaround that covered up the conflict of interest in the first place.
All this would be laughable if the principles at issue were not so important.
Caeser’s wife clearly is not above suspicion and Caesar himself now seems embroiled in a questionable chain of events that only full disclosure or a truly independent inquiry can put to rest.