Disclosing loans

The Herald reports:

Embattled MP is facing fresh trouble after it emerged he failed to declare a top-of-the-range $899 smartphone.

The Pakuranga MP claims he did not have to disclose the Samsung Galaxy S4 phone in a register of pecuniary interests, released this week, because it was a long-term loan and not a gift.

Prime Minister John Key and Communications and Technology Minister Amy Adams were also given phones — Key got three — but both declared them on the gifts register.

Williamson told the Herald on Sunday Samsung contacted him through a public relations firm to offer him an “extended trial”.

Williamson said he was known as a fan of technology and companies often wanted to show him their latest products. “It will go back to Samsung and hence, no gift occurred.”

There is still a benefit from the loan. But does it meet the threshold?

The Registrar of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests, Sir Maarten Wevers, said it should be on the register if Williamson had more than $500 worth of benefit from the phone over a 12-month period.

“If you were lending someone a house for a year or a car for a year and it has a value of more than $500, I would expect that to be included in your return,” he said. “If you’re in doubt you should declare. That’s the rule of thumb.”

Sir Maarten said he would check with the Office of the Clerk on Monday to see whether there were for any precedents for this sort of thing

Constitutional law expert Andrew Geddis said Williamson was wrong to say it was not a gift. “There’s still a gift involved in that he’s gaining free the use of this device for the period in which it is in his possession,” the Otago University professor said.

I agree with Sir Maarten and Andrew. However the “value” of the loan would seem to be under the $500 threshold.

One could treat the $899 as an interest free loan. At even 10% interest hat is just $90 a year of value.

Or one could take a depreciation type approach and say a mobile phone tends to last for three years, so $900 over three years is $300 a year of value – still uner the threshold.

Having said that, the maxim of “If in doubt, declare” is a wise one.

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