Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Greens’ transparency missing in action

Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Greens’ transparency missing in action

For the last few years, the Green Party has been the party that has managed to avoid the plague of multiple scandals that have beleaguered other political parties.

It appears that their luck has run out with a second scandal which, unfortunately for them, coincided with Golraz Ghahraman, the focus of the first political scandal for the year, appearing in court on charges of shoplifting. To say it’s a challenging start for new co-leader Chloe Swarbrick would be an understatement.

This latest scandal,  allegations of migrant exploitation involving MP Darleen Tana, has once again thrown the party’s handling of such issues into the spotlight. Like Ghahraman, there have been questions about who knew what and when and about when the public would be told.

The allegations first came to light on 1 February when Tana told the party that there had been a complaint made to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) by someone who worked at E-Bikes NZ – her husband’s business.  It was at this time, she was stood down from her small business portfolio. However, the public was not informed.

It was only today when more allegations came to light, through an investigation by media outlet, Stuff, that the MP was formally stood down pending an investigation into what she knew and when.

The timing and reasons the leaders have given about not telling the public are remarkably similar to how the party handled the Ghahraman situation. In both cases, the party leaders knew about the allegations for some time before they were finally forced into a public announcement by a journalist.

Transparency lacking

There can be no doubt that the party is having an annus horribilis. It began in May last year when MP Elizabeth Kerekere resigned after being accused of bullying. Ghahraman’s shoplifting allegations– to which she pleaded guilty this week – followed. Then former party co-leader James Shaw announced his resignation and the sudden death of Efeso Collins happened soon after. And now this.

While the outcome of the ERA employment investigation and the party’s internal investigation will be some weeks away, the greater concern is about the way the party has handled these two cases.

The party appears to be putting what its leaders describe as “fair and due process,” over transparency with voters. In this latest case, the allegations are still being investigated, and people are innocent until proven otherwise, but clearly, there is enough concern to first remove Tana from her small business portfolio and then stand her down as an MP.  Both actions no political party would take lightly.

The public has a right to know when those whom it has elected to represent them are being investigated for any reason, even more so when the party they are part of has chosen to take action against one of its MPs. Politicians are there to serve the public, and the public rightly holds them to higher standards. And with good reason, elected representatives are there not only to represent voters but also to make the laws that govern the country.

Integrity issues reduce trust

Research in Britain on ethics and integrity issues in Parliament found that issues of political integrity 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.

By not being open and transparent when Tana was first stood down from her portfolio, the Greens have only damaged the public’s trust even more.  It appears that they didn’t learn from the Ghahraman scandal, voters will be hoping they learn now.

 

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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.