The latest news on Winston’s trip to Las Vegas confirms that Helen Clark is operating two sets of standards – one for Winston, and for other Ministers. Winston could rob a bank in broad daylight, and Helen would happily keep him on.
Let us go to the Cabinet Manual, section 2.113:
Subject to parliamentary or portfolio requirements, and with the prior approval of the Prime Minister, Ministers may occasionally extend overseas visits outside the formal itinerary for personal reasons, provided no additional costs are incurred by the government as a result.
Now it is as clear as it can be, that Winston Peters was required to get Helen Clark’s permission for the sidetrip to Las Vegas. Clark says she only learnt of it two weeks ago. Now by itself this isn’t a hanging offence, but what it illustrates is how Clark operates a totally different set of standards with Peters. Peters knows Clark won’t touch him, so he doesn’t bother with minor stuff like accountability or rules.
There is also some confusion about whether or not Clark did know more than two weeks ago. Whale Oil alleges that the unapproved side trip was discussed at the MFAT Divisional Officers’ Meeting which includes PM’s foreign afairs advisor from DPMC. So if Clark did not know, then her Department did.
Matthew Hooton also reports that George Calvert has denied paying for the sidetrip to Vegas. Now the lanugage used here (and one has to be suspicious when it involves Winston and friends) suggests the denial only applies to the airfares – not necessarily the accomodation and match tickets. Because if someone other than Peters did pay for them, and the cost was over NZ$500, then Peters has breached (again) the Register of MPs Pecuninary Interests and the Cabinet Manual (again).
Queen Bee asserts that the taxpayer originally paid for the flights and the accommodation. which is what caused all the fuss in MFAT. The money was repaid, but it is not known when – was it after questions were asked?
The best case scenario is that Peters has broken the Cabinet Manual, and Clark has demonstrated she has will not enforce any rules on Peters, so long as he votes for her. The worst case scenario is that the taxpayer paid for personal travel, it was only refunded when found out, and also gifts in excess of $500 were not declared. It is important to stress that there is no public proof of the worst case scenario at this point in time. Only the best case scenario has been proven. The worst case scenario can be proven false in just five minutes with the appropriate receipts.