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Friday, August 05, 2011

Patronage reform at Smaill's pace

I haven't even opened the link as I type this. What I expect to find is that the Nats have continued, shamelessly, to stack the Lotteries Commission with their cronies - old party hacks, old mates and anyone who has done the Tories a favour.

Announcing appointments that may cause controversy is just part of the normal routine of government whereby all the ugly, inconvenient and dodgy stuff gets bundled into the Friday afternoon shit-drop to take advantage of the lull in the news cycle - hoping to swamp the story over the weekend and have it neutralised and forgotten by Monday. OMG, hey - it's Friday today... d'ya think?

Political patronage is entrenched in the NZ system because of the two party dominance of National and Labour - neither will abolish a system that allows them to distribute jobs for the boys. And it's an all or nothing game they play where the appointment of political adversaries is very rare (Finlayson appointing Nandor to the Arts Council and the capturing of Michael Cullen into the Railways and other boards being two of the few exceptions this term). The last National government - for example - had planted their lackies by term one, moved to a majority in the follwing and kept going until it was more stacked than Dolly Parton. At the end of their nine years in office they had managed to insert a National Party officeholder or member into every single appointment to the Lotteries Commission. They didn't care what people thought of it either, they could and they did.

So with all that cynicism aired I'll now click the link - better still go to the official Ministerial announcement.

Five new Lotteries appointments have been announced by the Minister of Internal Affairs, including one to the Lottery Grants Board and four to regional distribution committees.

It's the board they want to stack because that allocates $128m while the regional committees in total distribute only $26m.

Ailsa Smaill of the Gore area has been appointed to the Lottery Grants Board. Ms Smaill has a background in horse breeding and farming, and is a former member of a lottery national distribution committee.

Hey - The Finance Minister is from down there too! OMG like coincidence numero uno! With all the dodginess over the racing industry abusing the pokie machine distribution system it is interesting someone heavily involved in horse racing is appointed. But whatever that doesn't prove anything dodgy...

Hey - look at her mates on Facebook: looks like most National MPs are good buds. Who would have guessed? Likes: John Key, other Nat MPs and Nat candidates and horse racing and SkyCity. Reads like a National Party activist cum gambolohic. Sounds conflicted a bit too doesn't it? One form of gambling-related industry in private holdings - in a position - thanks to the Minister - of governing another form of (supposedly publicly-spirited) gambling. Who is in whose pockets here? But don't worry, it's basically the weekend now and no-one will know or care that the Tories have snuck in another foot soldier under the misty rainbow arc of the Friday afternoon shit-drop.

Now what are the chances of Smaill being a National Party member and/or officeholder? It's a certainty isn't it? She wouldn't have got the job otherwise. C'mon, it's so obvious. It was obvious before I even clicked the link. I can't be faffed investigating the other appointments to the regional committees, but hopefully they will have made a few token non-National appointments because they don't deserve to get away with stacking these things time after time. The system as it is will default to a one party state under continuous ministries because of this patronage.

And yet in the NZ system where the Ministers appoint without reference to anyone except Cabinet that sort of political appointment - patronage - is considered normal; just part of the Westminster tradition. It should not be. These should be banned, or at the least capped to one or two per board to avoid stacking (ie. can never be a majority of any board) and be subject to (or be appointed directly by) a parliamentary committee representing all parties. Sadly, and predictably, stacking is where the Nats are going again with the Lotteries Board.

I wonder if the constitutional review panel will deal with this issue when they commence in full next year?

The first step would be for the government to be big enough to declare the political party membership of its own political appointees. The Ministerial announcement makes no mention of being a proud National Party stalwart. They should declare their party membership or officeholder positions as a matter of course.


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