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Watkins not impressed with Little’s Niue ‘scandal’


Oh dear, Mr Little’s allegations about the Niue hotel do not find favour with Tracy Watkins in her political opinion piece today. Ms Watkins is more usually a cheerleader for Labour and Little, but not today.

There is something missing from the Opposition’s Murray McCully/Scenic Hotel Group political donations “scandal”. A link.

So right from the opening words Ms Watkins is clear that as far as she is concerned the ‘scandal’ lacks substance.

Labour is calling for an Auditor General’s inquiry and leader Andrew Little claims something “stinks to high heaven” about the way money “earmarked as aid” for Niue “has instead been given to upgrade a resort run by a National Party donor”.

Clearly she finds the language used as by Little as seeking to be prejudicial, especially as the allegations lack  are so lacking in substance and hard evidence.

Little deliberately plants a few seeds with this statement; firstly, that money intended for traditional aid (presumably he means crops, humanitarian relief or medical supplies etc) was instead diverted to a luxury resort. And second, that there may be something dodgy about Government appointees deciding the contract.

So let’s unpick that a little.

Oh dear, clearly Ms Watkins finds the claims by Little problematical. Indeed an unkind person might infer that the claims are fallacious.

Ms Watkins in succeeding paragraphs demolishes Little’s claims quite completely. Adam especially liked this phrase:-

But the suggestion that aid intended for more worthy projects was suddenly diverted to the resort after Hagaman’s donation is tenuous.

Ms Watkins then turns her forensic eye to the tender process and proceeds to eviscerate Little’s assertions here as well.

Little is right when he says that it is his role as Opposition leader to ask questions when a big political donor is awarded Government contracts.

Adam agrees with this comment, but this is then effectively seen off by the following:-

But suggesting it “stinks to high heaven” takes things to a different level.

Even if there hadn’t been a number of steps between the minister and the decision to award the contract, Little’s claim appears to rest on the assumption that everyone involved in the process – from senior diplomats, to government agencies and senior politicians – was either swayed by the donation, or leaned on by the minister.

In effect she is saying that far too many people were involved in the process for it to have been anything but above board. Again a charitable view might well be that Mr Little had a brain fade and saw a conspiracy where none existed.

It is worth noting that Horwath HTL is the world’s largest consulting group specialising in the hospitality, tourism and leisure industry, with 45 offices in 38 countries. Thus by inference it could be said that Little was suggesting less than ethical behaviour by Horwath on top of his allegations against those individuals involved as either trustees or board members in he governance of the resort.

In the absence of a whistle blower, or any documentation, leaked emails or other evidence so far to support that view, that’s a pretty serious accusation. Seemingly, it relies solely on the fact that Hagaman donated money to the National Party.

This is dangerous territory for Little and not because the Hagamans have threatened legal action.

This is tantamount to Little declaring that any political donor is a target simply because they are a donor.Ms Watkins then dissects the area of donations and makes a number of valid comments.

She concludes with:-

If every big donation is going to be decried as dodgy there seem to be only two alternatives – either barring donors from tendering for Government contracts, which is probably unworkable, or a fully state funded regime, which is where the first option ultimately leads anyway, given the inevitable drying up of campaign funds.

But State funding opens a whole other can of worms, one that comes at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to taxpayers.

It’s also just as likely to become a football and just as open to abuse.

Anyone who doubts that should cast their mind back to the Labour pledge card scandal of a few years back.

Which is the other problem with where Little may be going.

The public’s suspicion about wealthy donors is probably only rivalled by their scepticism over politicians putting their hands out for more money.

Clearly she is not impressed. The fact that she raises the Labour pledge card scandal suggests she was really, really unimpressed.

For once it seems Ms Watkins took her blowtorch and applied it to one of Andrew Little’s statements and found it severely wanting.Would that the media would do this more often. Far too often Labour, the Greens and NZ First  are allowed to blather and bluster with no questioning of whether the underlying facts support the claims made.


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