Will political foxes reform electoral and transparency laws?

Two SFO investigations into party donations, and multiple failures to fulfil openness and transparency pledges, suggests that our political parties and MPs need better laws to make them comply with more honesty and openness. The problem is, the political foxes make the laws to limit themselves – and then find ways to circumvent and ignore.

How political donations are disclosed, plus the Official Information Act are two things that need revised. There is no chance of that happening before the election, but will something be done by the next Government (and hopefully with the support of the whole parliament)?

ODT editorial: Keeping their noses clean

On Monday, the SFO, already with its hands full dealing with complaints about National Party funding arrangements which have resulted in four people facing charges (but not the party itself), had the Electoral Commission file on the New Zealand First Foundation passed on to it by the police for further investigation.

While it is difficult to paint a rosy picture of a situation where two of the country’s major political parties have found themselves under investigation, there is something heartening about this.

Politicians like to quote Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which regularly places New Zealand high in its rankings of the least corrupt countries in the world.

It is because investigations such as the ones the SFO have undertaken are permitted, because public scrutiny of political donations is expected and the highest amounts are disclosed publicly, because political parties are obliged to disclose their expenses, that New Zealand can maintain this reputation.

And because party officials with consciences are prepared to whistleblow on questionable practices?

But that does not mean that all is well.

It obviously isn’t.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has suggested a full independent look at political donation laws, which would be a beginning but only a beginning.

Every general election is subject to a subsequent select committee inquiry, but the assessment of the 2017 election was rendered somewhat farcical by constant delays and wholesale politicisation of the process.

Unfortunately politicisation and delays are ways that politicians avoid anything being done to curb their excesses.

Justice Minister Andrew Little, who assigns projects to what is an independent crown entity, might consider electoral law as something the commission, or another equally as high-powered independent legal committee, could profitably examine.

This election is already tainted with allegations of wrongdoing before the campaign officially begins, no matter how many Facebook transparency agreements political parties sign up to.

To better serve the voters they seek to represent, politicians need to rise above their partisan divide and work towards a suite of electoral laws for 2023.

But will the foxes do anything to guard the political henhouse? Or will they continue to flout the intent of the current laws, and what the electorate expects of them?

A start would be to get each party to commit to doing something in the next term – but that will only work if the follow up and actually do what they promise.