Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Shoplifting allegation damage already done

Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Shoplifting allegation damage already done

Regardless of the outcome of the investigation into alleged shoplifting by Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, it seems likely the damage is already done.

It is going to be hard for Ghahraman and the Green Party to recover quickly from this political scandal, the first for 2024.

Unfortunately for both the party and Ghahraman, the timing couldn’t be worse. There’s little in the news at the moment, and even less about politics with the House not sitting and most politicians on holiday until later this month. That’s not to say, however, that it wouldn’t have become a news story at a busier time of the year.

With the investigation ongoing, there is only speculation about what may have occurred at Auckland’s upmarket clothing store Scotties a couple of days before Christmas last year. And there could be a host of explanations.

However, there are some telling indications that something happened that is worthy of the police’s time. One is that the police have confirmed that they have received a report of alleged shoplifting, another is that Ghahraman quickly stepped down from her spokesperson roles, which includes justice. A third is the deafening silence from both Ghahraman and the Green Party.

If she is charged with an offence, her political career will almost certainly be over. But even the suggestion that shoplifting allegedly took place will raise questions about Ghahraman’s ability to remain an MP. Let’s not forget that it is Parliament that makes the laws for the country.

The Green Party will want to act quickly to ensure that this scandal doesn’t impact the wider party’s reputation. The party, until now, has been relatively free of the integrity issues that have plagued other political parties in the last few years, particularly from a sitting MP. Last year, Green MP Elizabeth Kerekere was accused of bullying but resigned before the investigation was complete.

Host of scandals in 2023

2023 was a particularly bad year for political scandals in New Zealand with three Labour Government Ministers resigning or being sacked for a variety of integrity violations and a fourth being censured by Parliament’s privileges committee. A further four MPs were also called before the committee including one for threatening behaviour.

During last year there were also numerous accusations of poor behaviour by MPs from across the political spectrum. The accusations included conflicts of interest, bullying, and threats to blow up a public sector agency.

There were also questions around the integrity of political candidates In the lead-up to last year’s general election despite promises from the National Party, in particular, that candidate selection processes would be tightened following high-profile cases in previous years. Several candidates from National and Act resigned after it was discovered they had made inappropriate comments that had not been picked up in the vetting process.

It can be easy to dismiss these integrity issues by saying that the public is not interested in political scandals. However, voters elect MPs to represent them. How they conduct themselves matters.

Integrity issues negatively impact voters

While there is limited research on this topic in New Zealand,  research undertaken in the United Kingdom shows that issues of political integrity do negatively impact citizens’ views towards and engagement with public institutions and politics. It reduces trust in politicians and the political system and contributes to disengagement because the public considers that politicians are not focussing on the issues that matter to them.

Of even more concern, is that British research shows that the public also considers the ethics of the words politicians use, the promises they make, and how they answer questions. Something that politicians are more likely to consider just part of being a politician.

And, what Ghahraman and the Green Party need to be aware of with this latest scandal is that most people value honesty over hard work or success.

Regardless of the outcome of this latest scandal, we can only hope the first political scandal of 2024 is not a sign of what’s to come.

 

Jacqui Van Der Kaay is a former journalist, holds a Masters degree in Political Science from Victoria University of Wellington and has a specialist interest in political leadership, voter behaviour, immigration and how social media affects democracy.