Over the last week while being questioned by Russell Norman John Key has asserted that whether or not a conflict of interest exists is a matter for a Minister to decide.
Well bad news John it isn’t. There is a process and you are responsible both for that process working properly and detailed arrangements for managing conflicts that flow from it.
The case in point, if the facts as alleged by Norman are accurate, is a pretty clear cut one. David Carter as a farmer in Canterbury has a case currently before Ecan to increase his water rights and therefore the value of his land. He takes part in the Cabinet debate and decision to scrap Ecan and short circuit the system for the decision relating to his farm. About as obvious a conflict as one could get and certainly well over the perceived conflict test.
Why do we have rules – the Cabinet Office Manual puts it pretty well:-
2.50 To protect the integrity of the decision-making process of executive government and to maintain public trust in the Executive, Ministers and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries must conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to their office.
And how does the system work in practise:-
the management of any conflicts that are identified is agreed between the Prime Minister and the Minister concerned, with advice as required from the Cabinet Office.
So John you can’t just smile and wave and say it is up to your Ministers. The Cabinet Office, the rules and their implementation has one person responsible to parliament – it is you.