Sep 14, 2008

Hooton Too Generous To Peters

Matthew Hooton, the subject of a savage attack on media watch this morning, is very charitable to Winston Peters on his blog this morning. He suggests that room costs in las vegas are quite modest. We they can be. You can get a room at the MGM Grand on a Monday for as low as US$85. But on the day of a big event, such as a title fight or a big show, the price is much higher - a minimum of US$500. And that will be for the cheapest room in the hotel. Would Winston stay in such a room?

But Hotton's analysis of the airfare situation and the need for the PM's approval is more on the ball

The Herald on Sunday has reported the first skirmishes between Rodney Hide and Winston Peters over the Foreign Minister’s “sidetrip” to Las Vegas for the Oscar de la Hoya-Floyd Mayweather fight in May last year.
The Foreign Minister has confirmed that he made the “sidetrip” when he was in Berlin entroute to Singapore, so some “sidetrip” it must have been.
You can fly from Berlin to Singapore, via Frankfurt, on Lufthansa and
Singapore Airlines for the discounted Business Class fare of around NZ$7730.50. (I don’t know why on earth the HoS would assume, as it did, that Peters would fly economy - he was meant to be working on this trip, remember.) It is quite an efficient way of getting from Berlin to Singapore, taking a total of around 14 hours.
In contrast, getting even from Berlin to Las Vegas is considerably more arduous, taking at least 16 hours, and requiring at least two stops. Getting from Las Vegas to Singapore can also be difficult, taking almost 24 hours on United Airlines. Book Business Class Berlin/Las Vegas/Singapore on
United Airlines and it will set you back around $15,500.
To be square with the taxpayer, it seems the Foreign Minister would have had to pay about $8,000 for the tickets alone (and god knows what sort of condition he would have arrived in, in Singapore, after flying halfway around the world and stopping over in Las Vegas for a fight, but he is known for his resilience.)
I’m told hotels in Las Vegas are quite cheap, because they are associated with casinos who want people to stay as long as possible, but fight tickets aren’t.
The average ticket price for the fight was said to be
over US$1,300. So the total cost of the Foreign Minister’s “sidetrip”, paid by him personally, would have been over NZ$10,000.
I hope he enjoyed himself for that amount. He must be a big boxing fan.
We must take the Foreign Minister at his word that he personally paid this ten grand. It would put the whole matter to rest to see the receipts. And also the dates on them.
And it would be also interesting to know if the Prime Minister approved the sidetrip and knew how it was to be financed. From my memory working for the Trade Minister in the 1990s, prime ministers have to approve all ministerial travel, including sidetrips. This remains part of the
Cabinet Office Manual:
“2.113 Subject to parliamentary or portfolio requirements, and with the prior approval of the Prime Minister, Ministers may occasionally extend overseas visits outside the formal itinerary for personal reasons, provided no additional costs are incurred by the government as a result.
“2.114 Ministers may make personal visits overseas if they obtain the Prime Minister’s prior approval, which will be subject to obtaining leave to be absent from the House. Ministers must also obtain the agreement of another Minister or Ministers to act during such periods of absence. (See paragraphs 2.39 - 2.42.) The Cabinet Office should be advised of any such arrangements.”
As some are speculating, this whole thing may just be a blog-inspired, urban-myth beat up, like the nonsense about the Prime Minister’s husband. But given how easy it would be for everyone to tidy it up, it will either be sorted out so it won’t appear at all on the 6pm news - or it should lead it.