21 December 2011

A general election results in jobless former politicians. Most want to remain on the political scene. Their skills may make them suitable for appointment to Crown entities or similar boards. Others will find lobbying roles – euphemistically referred to in New Zealand as public relations.  Some will combine lobbying with an agency appointment.  There will be very little transparency about the relationships. Passes to Parliament Buildings, meaning ready access to MPs and Ministers, attest to their continung influence. They will be contracted to promote interests to those former colleagues. This “revolving door“ is seen in most developed jurisdictions as a cause of declining trust in government.

Last year the OECD published Principles of Integrity and Transparency in Lobbying.  New Zealand stands apart from the other member-states, having done nothing to acknowledge the Principles. These Principles reflect experiences within the OECD and the need for openness to counter the corrupting influence inherent in lobbying.

The OECD expectations include

  • setting of lobbying standards,
  • registering lobbyists–with a stand-down period before MPs and particularly Ministers can be registered,
  • deregistering lobbyists who breach the standards
  • requiring the disclosure of lobbyists’ clients
  • obliging Ministers and senior officials to disclose meetings with lobbyists
  • prohibitions on lobbyists giving gifts and providing hospitality

Because powerful vested interests expect ready access to decision makers, all countries have difficulty with policing their lobbying measures.  In Canada the Lobbying Commissioner has been advocating for tighter controls because of the breach of standards-already much more rigorous than anything in New Zealand.

In Australia both federal and state provisions are being bolstered.

The British media is currently focusing on the influence of lobbyists. A concern centres on Bell Pottinger – a  politically well-connected lobbyist – which disclosed clients whose reputations it has laundered, including Uzbekistan, Belarus, Yemen , Sri Lanka, News of the World and Pinochet.    The Independent this week reported that 20% of former MPs who left office at the 2010 election work for companies that lobby the UK Government. There are 326 former MPs with passes to Westminster who are not required to declare their business interests.

The OECD standards are seen as unnecessary having regard to the generally high standards of public life in New Zealand.  But matters are more likely to deteriorate than stay the same. With his recent death, an observation of Vaclav Haval, the Czech champion of democracy is apposite;  “Evil must be confronted in its womb”.