The Labour Party has asked the Auditor-General to investigate the awarding of a resort management contract in Niue to one of the National Party’s biggest donors.
It’s easy to see why Labour (and the Auditor-General) would be concerned about the situation. Man gives National Party money, National Party makes decisions which return massive profits and big chunks of public money to man.
But I just feel jaded.
This isn’t corruption. This is how the world works.
There are a few obviously dodgy parts of this story. Like the idea that Murray McCully, a man with the nickname “Prince of Darkness” and the reputation for literally knowing everything about everyone in the National Party, didn’t know at least the name of the person who was the party’s second-biggest donor in 2014.
But the rest? Perfectly plausible. Because the powers that be don’t have to be openly corrupt to get things done the way they want. They’re the powers that be, after all. You don’t have to cheat when you write the rules.
It’s enough to give a big wad of cash to a political party because you really do support them. Then maybe you get invited to drinks or dinner or a fundraiser and shake a lot of hands, and later on the owner of one of those hands is in charge of making a decision about whether your company gets a contract. Maybe the tenders are all pretty similar, but you’re the guy who the decision-maker can put a face to, so they unconsciously favour you. Or maybe your tender is the “best” because you’re the kind of person who gives $100,000 to a political party so you’re also the kind of person who has cognac on the regular with people who are in the know. It’s not insider trading, nothing that obvious, maybe just a few passing comments about the economic situation or who else is looking at putting in a bid. It’s not cheating, it’s just a well-timed wink.
And maybe the government pours millions in aid funding into the business venture you’re profiting from, not because Murray McCully specifically wants to help you get richer, just because pouring money into rich people’s businesses overseas is a perfectly normal part of how this government does business. Heck, this resort might actually benefit our national interests, unlike that sheep farm in the desert.
Now if you’re an incredibly wealthy hotel developer, that’s the kind of policy you like, so it makes perfect sense you’d donate large sums of money to a party which will deliver it. You don’t have to make demands or extract specific promises. That would be bribery. This is just facilitation.
No one went into this thinking “I’m going to help Earl Hagaman finally hit that $200 million net worth milestone.” No one in Murray McCully’s office picked up the phone and said “Give Earl that contract” or “Let’s direct our aid funding to Earl’s resort in Niue.”
No one had to. Because this isn’t corruption. It’s the system working as intended.
After I’d drafted this I noted a very on-point tweet from @ShakingStick:
So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Tories are protesting too much. It could be an interesting week in politics.