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Mighty River Power, Members of Parliament, and Conflicts of Interest

26 March 2013 16 comments

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On 27 June last year,  on the last episode of TVNZ7’s ‘Backbenches’, Minister for Courts, Associate Minister of Justice, and Associate Minister for Social Development, Chester Borrows, admitted his intention to  buy shares in partially-privatised state owned enterprises.

In an  exchange between ‘Backbenches’ Host Wallace Chapman and Chester Burrows,

CHAPMAN:  “Will you be buying shares in Mighty River Power?”

BORROWS:  “Yes, probably.”

CHAPMAN:  “Ok.”

BORROWS:  “I’m a mum and dad investor, well I’m half of a mum and investor partnership.”

CHAPMAN:  “So you will be.”

BORROWS:  “Yep.”

On 2 July, when I blogged this issue (see: Conflicts of Interest?), I asked three questions,

  • Is this a vested interest in partial-privatisation?
  • Is this a conflict of interest?
  • Is this verging on self-serving corruption?

It will be interesting to find (if at all possible to uncover), how many National/ACT/United Future members of Parliament will end up owning shares in Mighty River Power, and other part-privatised SOEs?

A recent Sunday Star Times story told readers that members of Parliament and government ministers would follow a self-imposed “moratorium” on not buying any shares in SOEs for 90 days,

Cabinet ministers have agreed to a voluntary “moratorium” preventing the purchase of shares by all ministers, and some of their staff, until 90 days after the initial sale.

Finance Minister Bill English’s office said: “Cabinet also agreed that ministers and the staff in those offices . . . should use their best endeavours to ensure that their partners and dependent children adhere to the same moratorium.”

Acknowledgment: Fairfax Media – Call to ban ministers from share float

That is simply not good enough. A politician could easily instruct a solicitor to buy shares on his/her behalf. Or purchase shares via a ‘shell-company‘. There are as many ways to dodge scrutiny as the human mind can imagine.

The implications of government MPs and Ministers owning shares in state assets which they themselves have decided to privatise is a serious matter.

The only three ways to avoid such a spectacular conflict of interest is,

  1. Pass legislation banning MPs or their spouses from ever owning shares in SOEs (not very practical)
  2. Make the Pecuniary Interests register a permanent feature for all politicians to fill out for the rest of their lives. (possible – though a real pain in the arse)
  3. Scrap the asset sales programme. (Much easier.)

If politicians such as Borrows purchase shares in SOEs, it will further lower their reputations in the eyes of the public. “They’re in it for themselves” will become a reality in the minds of people, rather than just a vague suspicion.

We’re treading on thin ice here and the prospect of real political corruption takes one step closer to reality.

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Additional References

Call to ban ministers from share float (24 March 2013)

Previous related blogposts

Conflicts of Interest?

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