20 September 2014

Campaigning for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council seems to involve practices which may well be unlawful in domestic politics and breach conduct standards expected of officials.   After ten years of soliciting votes, the New Zealand campaign concluded successfully last week. New Zealand sought to ensure its campaign message was memorable not only through diplomatic endeavour and Ministerial visits, but also with aid projects, hosting UN Ambassadors on visits to New Zealand and providing gifts for UN delegation staff.

All contenders engage in what is classed as “treating” in the election law of most jurisdictions. The extent of these activities and the value of the benefits provided seem to be the only distinguishing factor. The relevant provision in the New Zealand Electoral Act is s 217  – “Every person commits the offence of treating who corruptly, …directly or indirectly gives or provides …. any food, drink, entertainment, or provision to or for any person… (b) for the purpose of procuring himself … to be elected….”

The Principles of Integrity and Transparency in Lobbying, formally adopted by all OECD Member States in 2010 prohibit lobbyists giving gifts to politicians and officials. These principles would appear not to have application at the United Nations.

Buzzfeed has published photographs of election gifts provided to UN delegation staff. The New Zealand “goodies bag” is larger than the packages provided by Spain, and Turkey.  Turkey’s gift was Turkish delight and a thermos, Spain gave a leather business card holder and confectionery, New Zealand gave licorice and the New Zealand produced UN Handbook  (now in its 51st edition) – and to African delegations, a copy of the African Union Handbank (in a format similar to the UN Handbook) which has recently been published, with New Zealand support  and funding.

Providing the Handbook is in line with the Auditor General’s guidance on Gifts and Hospitality set out in the Controlling Sensitive Expenditure Guidelines where the concern is that gift giving may involve an inappropriate or excessive value and risk an explicit or implicit expectation of a favour in return. OAG guidance indicates that officials should only accept “…infrequent and inexpensive gifts …for example, pens, badges, and calendars…”  Interestingly the Auditor General’s last declaration of Gifts and Hospitality records that the only gifts she gave during the preceding six months were 15 tie pins,  21 badges and 8 coasters!

Unlike the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade celebrations on Friday marking the successful vote, last year when Saudi Arabia was elected to a  temporary seat on the Security Council, it declined to take it up, and a “thank you but we don’t want to” gift was distributed to staff of national delegations to the United Nations.