Jul 16, 2008

Keeping Them Honest

Being out of town, then out of internet contact, we missed Monday's Dominion Post Editorial.

We agree with all the points being made:

We need to know what Tommy Gear does for the taxpayer and how much he gets paid;

National needs to be the Opposition when it comes to Winston;

And we need to change the OIA so that Parliamentary Services are no longer exempted.

Keeping them honest read the banner an "over-enthusiastic" NZ First supporter strung across a Tauranga property earlier this year. If it wasn't at taxpayer expense it would be a fine joke, The Dominion Post writes.
The banner, the Electoral Commission has ruled, breached the Electoral Finance Act because it did not conform to the rules set for political advertising.
The "over-enthusiastic supporter" on whom Winston Peters blamed the breach turned out not to be someone with only a tenuous connection to the party, but Tommy Gear, a friend of the NZ First leader and a man who has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Parliamentary Service for work done for NZ First.
But if readers think it is a source of concern that a man on the parliamentary payroll is unaware of the rules governing political advertising, it gets worse.
Even within NZ First few know what Mr Gear has done to earn a salary of up to $50,000 a year. And neither Mr Peters nor the Parliamentary Service is prepared to say.
Mr Peters, who has refused to even confirm that Mr Gear works for NZ First, has responded to questions with his usual belligerence. "Print one thing wrong, sunshine, and I will sue you." The Parliamentary Service refuses to say what Mr Gear does, how much he is payed, what hours he works, or even whether he is still on the payroll. Pay and hours are a matter for the MP and the staff member, says general manager Geoff Thorn.
That is an outrage. Mr Peters demands transparency and accountability of others but, as ACT leader Rodney Hide has rightly pointed out, he "can't answer the most basic questions to do with public money and his own behaviour".
Only slightly less outrageous is the refusal of National to comment on what is clearly an unsatisfactory state of affairs.
It is hardly surprising that Mr Peters is refusing to talk about his relationship with Mr Gear. It is only a few weeks ago that he refused to reveal to which charities NZ First had given the $158,000 it misspent during the last election campaign rather than return it to the public purse.
But the main Opposition party should have something to say about public money being spent in such an unaccountable fashion. That National does not suggests either that it does not want to invite scrutiny of its own use of parliamentary funds, or it does not want to alienate a potential coalition partner.
Either way, the affair highlights again the inadequacy of arrangements for the control of the $17 million given to MPs to help them communicate with constituents and to research and develop policy.
That, in part, is because MPs excluded the Parliamentary Service from the Official Information Act when it took effect in 1982. There is no rhyme or reason for the exclusion. If politicians cannot justify the expenditure of public money, they should not spend it.
But, with the honourable exception of Mr Hide, they appear to have decided it is in their mutual interest to shield one particular part of public expenditure from view.
Once again, the losers are the schmucks who have to foot the bill for this nonsense - you, the public.