While Key’s away the hotel play

It’s probably no coincidence that as soon as John Key heads away on an overseas trip Labour have an alleged  scandal to promote – regarding something that happened on 2014.

Andrew Little is promoting another ‘perception’ problem, which may mean that like last week with his Bahamas attack on John Shewan he doesn’t have any evidence that anything was actually improper.

NZ Herald: Labour questions $101,000 National donation and Niue resort management contract links

The Labour Party has called for an Auditor-General probe into whether a donation to the National Party had anything to do with a decision to grant the Scenic Hotel Group a contract to manage the Matavai Resort on Niue.

Earl Hagaman, the founder of Scenic Hotel Group, gave $101,000 to the National Party in September 2014. In October, Scenic Hotel Group announced it had the contract for the Matavai Resort on Niue – a contract awarded by a trust which was appointed by Foreign Minister Murray McCully to oversee the resort.

Mr McCully told RNZ National that there was no link between the donation and the contract and he had not been involved in awarding the contract. That was decided by the Niue Tourism Property Trust after running an international and competitive process. Mr McCully appoints the trustees for that but said he was not involved in the decision. “I can tell you that I had no involvement in the appointment process, conducted purely by the trustees and commercial management they appointed.

These are reputable professional people who conducted a full international process.”

Labour leader Andrew Little said the close timing of the donation to the awarding of the contract “stinks to high heaven” and he had asked the Auditor-General to investigate whether it was above board.

“New Zealand money, which was earmarked as aid for the island nation, has instead been given to upgrade a resort run by a National party donor.”

He said it was Mr McCully’s personal appointees on the trust which awarded the contract. “We must have questions answered on how the tender process worked, who knew about links between donations and the tenderer and whether Niuean people will ultimately benefit from the resort’s funding. The perception of propriety is key.”

Why is this an issue now?

Are perceptions of propriety and issue here for McCully and the Government?

Is it also fair to consider perceptions of propriety regarding Labour and Little dredging this up now when they haven’t (yet at least) produced any actual evidence of impropriety.

This is not just an attack on McCully and the Government. It is also an attack on a company.

NZ Herald: Hotel defends ‘squeaky clean’ process

The managing director of Scenic Hotel Group says he doubted the company’s founder knew the company was negotiating a management contract in Niue, which it won, at the time he made a $101,000 donation to the National Party.

Scenic Hotel Group managing director Brendan Taylor said Mr Hagaman knew the company was looking into Niue but that had been a six-year process and Mr Hagaman had not even known where Niue was. Any mention the company was tendering for it would have been “a cursory conversation”.

Since 2011, the Government has put $18 million into the Matavai resort as part of its efforts to boost tourism to Niue. That included $7.5 million to build a conference centre soon after Scenic Hotels took over.

The Matavai is owned by the Niue Tourism Property Trust on behalf of the Government of Niue. That arrangement was put in place in 2011 to ensure oversight of NZ aid.

It could also be seen as an attack on tourism in Niue. Has the investment in a resort there benefited Niue?

Or does that not matter when Labour puts a priority on dredged up ‘perceptions’ of scandals?

This may be designed to deter companies from making donations to National – but it will hardly help Labour’s desperately needed fund raising.

Perceptions of dirty politics may contribute to a reality of decline, in Labour fortunes both political and funding.