As for McCully’s handpicked appointees, these are the members of the Niue Tourism Property Trust whose members are indeed appointed by McCully on behalf of the Niue Government.
It has already been widely reported that they include the likes of the island’s High Commissioner and former police officer Ross Ardern. (Ardern also happens to be the father of Labour MP Jacinda Ardern so one would assume he’s not embedded with the National Party).
But this is where it gets complicated.
The Niue Tourism Property Trust appointed a board to oversee the running of the hotel and according to one of the four board members the agreement was negotiated and signed between Scenic Hotels and the board rather than the trust itself.
The tender process itself, meanwhile, was run by consultancy group Horwarth (which did the early feasibility studies for Auckland’s international conventional centre). So again, a step removed from the government appointees on Niue property trust.
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.
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 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.
With the involvement of Horwarth, Little’s allegations only stack up if the conspiracy involves McCully, the two Hagamans, the three trustees (including Ross Ardern), the four board members and the staff of Horwarth.
Little was right to ask the question but wrong to leap to judgement before the Auditor General decides even whether to take a look.
If Little had just asked for it to be reviewed, no problems. But he rushed to judgment and declared it stank to high heaven, and insulted the trustees by effectively referring to them as McCully’s handpicked mates when one of them is an MFAT Deputy Secretary and another the High Commissioner (and father of a Labour MP).
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.
This is what Labour wants. They are broke so they want to force taxpayers to fund their party.