Friday, May 25, 2018



Spain's corrupt government

Key figures in Spain's ruling party have just been jailed for corruption:

Spain’s ruling party has suffered a major blow after one of its former treasurers was jailed for 33 years for fraud and money laundering, and the party itself was found to have profited from an illegal kickbacks-for-contracts scheme, in a case that has become emblematic of political corruption in the country.

Luis Bárcenas, once a close ally of the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, was sentenced to prison for his part in the conspiracy and fined €44m (£38.5m), while the People’s party (PP) was fined €240,000 after judges at Spain’s highest criminal court ruled that it had benefited from the racket.

The so-called Gürtel case centred on Francisco Correa, a businessman with close ties to the PP who was accused of paying bribes to party officials between 1999 and 2006 in return for contracts to carry out public works and organise events. The investigation was codenamed Gürtel, the German word for correa (belt).

Correa was sentenced to 51 years in prison, and his lieutenant Pablo Crespo was jailed for 37 years and six months. Bárcenas’s wife, Rosalía Iglesias, was jailed for 15 years, and Correa’s ex-wife, Carmen Rodríguez Quijano, for 14 years and eight months.


All up, 29 party officials were sentenced to a combined 350 years in prison. There's now talk of a no confidence vote in the Spanish parliament to oust the government, and hopefully that will happen. This sort of corruption is not something that can be tolerated in a modern, democratic state, and parties which look the other way on it deserve to be punished by the electorate.

This is corrupt

One of the unstated rules of New Zealand society is that when you deal with the government, you get treated equally, regardless of whether you are rich or poor. Or at least, that's the ideal, and we'd be disturbed to find a government agency offering better service to the rich by "virtue" of their ill-gotten gains. But that's exactly what Immigration NZ is doing to customers of a Chinese bank:

More than half of a Chinese bank's wealthy clients had their New Zealand visitor visas approved within a day in the last year after an agreement to fast-track them.

Immigration New Zealand introduced a streamlined visa process for the bank's private banking or prestigious wealth management customers two years ago.

It has since also signed a similar deal with China UnionPay for its Platinum or Diamond credit card holders.

The Bank of China said the streamlined applications had cut visa processing times by at least half, from 15 days to fewer than five days, and in the past year, more than half of its clients that had applied for visas, had them approved within one business day.

[...]

Under the agreement, those travellers no longer needed to provide evidence of onward travel from New Zealand or their financial employment status.


So, quicker processing and lower visa standards if you're rich and use particular companies. It's corrupt in all sorts of ways - both a direct attack on equal service, but also the idea that private companies get to offer better services from our government as a perk. Supposedly there's a benefit to tourism, but the intangible cost is to reduce trust in government services while establishing a culture of corruption. What next? Visa-free travel if you fly here on Air New Zealand? Immunity from prosecution if you hire Russell McVeagh as your lawyers? No need to meet building standards if you work with Fletchers?

This is corruption, pure and simple. Government services should not be bought and sold like some commercial affiliate arrangement. This deal and any others like it must be terminated.

New Fisk

Whether Armenia, the Nazis or Isis – if you're going to commit genocide, you can’t do it without the help of local people

Total capture

In 2011, MPI uncovered systematic and sustained fraud by multiple fishing companies, which undermined the entire Quota Management System. The fraud was a serious crime with a penalty of five years imprisonment, but MPI didn't prosecute. Why not? Because they didn't think it would result in behaviour change:

The fishing companies did not face any sanctions following the compliance audit.

"Prosecutions will have a short-term effect in terms of behavioural change," Orr said.

"We've modelled this in the past and, at best, it is three, four, maybe five years if you're lucky through prosecution action.


Can you imagine the police taking that approach to murderers, burglars, or drunk drivers? Laughable, isn't it. Why bother even having laws if they're not enforced?

There are two options here. One is that MPI is right, and the fishing industry suffers from such deep-seated criminality that the existing penalty structure fails to deter their crime. In which case the answer is stronger incentives to counter the obvious and direct financial incentives to commit such fraud. And there's an obvious one available: quota forfeiture - taking away their right to fish. Or seizing the vessels which commit fraud as instruments of crime. The latter is already available as a penalty; MPI just has to use it.

The second option is that MPI is totally captured by the industry it is supposed to be regulating, and refusing to prosecute because they're not really interested in doing their jobs. In which case we might as well sack the lot of them and get new people who are interested in doing the job, people who aren't institutionally corrupt.

Either way, if we are to maintain the integrity of our fisheries system, things need to change. I think the change needs to start with MPI, but there is clearly a deep-seated culture of criminality in the fishing companies. It needs to be stamped out.

Thursday, May 24, 2018



The police put themselves above the law, again

Another day, another IPCA report about police abuse of tasers. In this case, a police officer tasered someone in the back while they were running away and knocked him unconscious - an action the IPCA found to be unlawful and in violation of police policies on use of force. If you or I had done that, we'd be looking at five years for assault with a weapon or disabling. But because the offender in this case was one of their own, the police are making excuses for him and there's no suggestion of prosecution. The police apparently consider themselves above the laws they enforce on the rest of us. And then they complain that no-one respects them...

This continued toleration of serious criminal behaviour by police undermines both them and the law. it needs to stop. Since the police won't stop it, we need to give the IPCA the ability to bring prosecutions against those under its jurisdiction so that the police can actually be held to account. Until that happens, they're simply a charade, an institutional lie to deceive the public into thinking that the law actually means something.

Pervasive criminality II

More evidence this morning that fishing is a criminal industry, from yet another suppressed MPI report:

Some of the country's biggest fishing companies have been under-reporting their hoki catch by hundreds of tonnes, according to a leaked fisheries report.

The report has been kept secret from the public for seven years and environmentalists say it casts doubt on industry claims that lucrative hoki is being fished sustainably.

The companies include Sanford and Talley's.

Hoki is the most valuable export fish, earning the country $230 million last year and famously used in McDonald's filet-o-fish burgers.

The Ministry of Fisheries 2011 report said McDonald's supplier Talley's failed to report an estimated 780 tonnes of hoki in one season.


The report and Greenpeace's summary are here. Talleys is not the only company named, and it suggests pervasive underreporting in the hoki fishery. This is a serious crime with a penalty of five years imprisonment, and it calls the entire quota management system (which is predicated on honest reporting) into doubt. But instead of prosecuting these criminal companies, MPI suppressed the report, as usual. Our regulator is rotten to the core, to the extent that we should probably be considering it a co-conspirator in these cases...

What this report (and the others like it) show is that the public can not trust the fishing industry, and we can not trust MPI. We need to clean up both, and quickly, before they destroy our marine environment forever.

Bad faith

That's the only way to describe the Prime Minister's refusal to commit to being bound by the result of the marijuana referendum if people vote to legalise it for recreational use. Firstly, its bad faith with the people of New Zealand: she's promising us a vote, but refusing to pay attention to it. So why bother with the charade? Its another example of politicians earning their reputation as dishonest liars, and she deserves every bit of that. Secondly, it's bad faith with her support parties: she promised this to the Greens in their confidence and supply agreement, and the implication in that promise is that the will of the people would be obeyed. By refusing that, she's basicly tearing up the agreement - and inviting the Greens to do likewise. (say, by refusing to support NZ First's awful party-hopping legislation until Labour keeps its promises to them).

Of course, if you're promising a binding referendum, the public should know exactly what we are voting for, as we did with MMP and the New Zealand flag. In this case, that means either publishing the agreed legalisation law, or actually passing it with a commencement clause saying that it will only come into effect if a referendum passes. But this would take control over this issue away from the politicians and give it to the people - which seems to be exactly what Jacinda Ardern opposes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018



A victory for freedom of the press in Fiji

For the past three weeks, Fiji Times executives and journalists have been on trial for sedition over a letter to the editor that they published. Today, they were acquitted:

Fiji's High Court has found three executives of The Fiji Times newspaper and another man not guilty of sedition.

The four men, and the newspaper itself, were charged with sedition over a letter published in the indigenous language publication Nai Lalakai in 2016.

[...]

During a three-week trial the prosecution had argued the aim of the letter was to sow feelings of ill-will towards Muslim Fijians.

But in handing down his verdict, Justice Thushara Rajasinghe said, "the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the letter was seditious" and he acquitted all four men of the charge.


Its a clear victory for freedom of the press, and an unexpected one - the Fijian judiciary is not noted for its independence (in part because they hire judges on short-term contracts, rather than appointing them for life). And I'm now wondering whether Justice Rajasinghe will have his contract renewed, or whether he'll effectively be fired by the government for failing to punish its enemies.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018



Spain lied

When Spain suspended Catalan democracy last year and imposed colonial rule from Madrid, it presented it as a temporary measure, to be ended once elections had been held and a new government was in place. But they lost those elections, and their efforts to prevent a new government from being formed (including nakedly arresting and charging a presidential candidate with "rebellion" to prevent his election) failed. And so Spain is now simply refusing to return control:

ANGER was rising in Catalonia last night after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy backtracked over withdrawing the unprecedented direct rule he imposed after last October’s independence referendum.

He claimed to recognise the powers of newly-elected President Quim Torra but refused to approve his choice of ministers, four of whom are facing charges connected with the poll, and refused to publish their nominations in the official gazette.

The Madrid government must end direct rule once the Catalan government is formed and cabinet ministers named, under the terms of the emergency legislation brought in under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution.


So much for Rajoy's vaunted "rule of law". This was always and only about usurping Catalan democracy.

As for what happens next, I expect the Catalan government will take the Spanish government to court to enforce its own law. Though I doubt they'll get justice from Spanish judges appointed by Rajoy.

A pawn of the fishing industry

Deep-sea trawling is an environmentally destructive practice which devastates vulnerable marine ecosystems for the private profit of a few fishing companies. The New Zealand government has been worried about this for a long time, and so they've been working through the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation to regulate it in our region. But now, they've suddenly shitcanned that plan:

The Government pulled plans to put major restrictions on deep sea trawling after the fishing industry threatened legal action.

Officials and scientists from New Zealand and Australia had been working on the joint proposal since 2012 and it was finally due to go in front of an inter-governmental body in Peru in late January.

It was designed to protect the stocks of orange roughy in the high seas and prevent the destruction of delicate seabed life like coral and sponges.

But just weeks before the meeting, the High Seas Fisheries lobby group – which includes Talleys and Sealord – wrote to the Government threatening legal action.


In a story which sounds awfully familiar, Winston Peters got involved, and suddenly six years of careful work and consultation were overturned so the fishing industry could keep on pillaging. Combine it with his push for a "marine sanctuary" in which fishing is permitted, and its beginning to look like the Minister for Foreign Affairs is simply a pawn of the fishing industry.

Monday, May 21, 2018



Conspiring against transparency

Radio New Zealand has yet another story of the Auckland Council failing to meet its obligations under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, and having to be ordered to release material by the Ombudsman. This time its about proposals for a new stadium. But what's interesting is how Auckland Mayor Phil Goff deliberately tried to insulate himself from having to release information on the matter:

Mr Goff personally called for the report soon after he was elected Mayor in October 2016, following 33 years in national politics.

Consultants PwC were engaged in January, although that move was not publicly announced until March, and the draft was delivered on time in June to the council agency Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA).

Mr Goff opted for a verbal briefing, and did want a copy of the draft.


The aim was clearly to lie about what he had been told, while being able to claim that the actual document wasn't held by him and could not be requested. Which is not acceptable behaviour from any elected official. But it shows how deep the OIA rot goes within Labour, and raises serious questions about Goff's compliance with the Public Records Act.

As for Auckland Council, they tried to claim that as they'd called the report a "draft", they didn't have to release it - which shows that they don't understand the law (or alternatively, are willing to lie about the law to requesters in the hope they won't complain). As the Ombudsman pointed out, "There is no basis for a blanket withholding of drafts under LGOIMA until they are completed and finalised," and this one is so old it has its own section in the common OIA misconceptions FAQ, which you'd expect the supposed professionals at Auckland Council to be familiar with. So either they're not professional or not competent. Either way, Auckland Council needs to hire a new LGOIMA team committed to obeying the law.

Why is Labour building houses for the rich?

KiwiBuild - the promise to squash the housing bubble by building 100,000 new affordable homes - is Labour's core policy for this term. Pretty obviously, if they do that, it will help get more people into their own homes, rather than paying rent to some landleech. But when it comes to implementation, Labour is quite happy to sell those houses to the rich:

People wanting to buy one of the Government's affordably priced homes will not be income-tested.

That means high-income earners will not be blocked from purchasing one of the 100,000 planned houses to be built over 10 years, which will be priced at up to $650,000.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said the criteria for prospective buyers in the KiwiBuild scheme were still being developed.

It is already known that the houses will be limited to first home-buyers and permanent residents.

But it is understood that income caps will not be used for the scheme.


Not applying income caps will mean that the wealthy are free to bid up the price and continue the bubble. It also raises the prospect of those houses ending up in the property portfolios of landlords and speculators rather than improving home ownership rates. And when we have a crisis caused in part by the wealthy hoarding houses, letting them do more of the same just seems foolish.

But its also inconsistent with the values Labour is purporting to represent to voters. They're supposed to stand for ordinary kiwis, not the wealthy. So why are they building houses for the latter?

New Fisk

How long after this week's Gaza massacre are we going to continue pretending that the Palestinians are non-people?

Palmerston North voters are racists too

So, it turns out that Palmerston North voters are racists too, just like their hick cousins in Manawatū:

Palmerston North people have spoken and more than two-thirds who voted were in opposition to creating separate Māori wards.

Results from a binding poll came in on Saturday night, with 14,567 voting against wards for the city council and 6530 voting for.

The percentage was 68.87 against and 30.88 per cent for.

The turnout was at 37.21 per cent of eligible voters, and 49 votes were counted as blank and four "informal" votes received.


I guess its just too much to expect better from this rural shithole. I hope they're really proud of themselves, being exactly the sort of people Don Brash thinks they are.

As for the solution, Local Government New Zealand has pointed out the iniquity of a racist law which allows the majority to veto minority representation, and they're right. Either all boundary changes need to be subject to referendum (in which case Maori can force a referendum on any scheme which does not guarantee appropriate representation), or none should be. But the current situation, where some boundary changes but not others can result in a referendum, based on race, is simply racism.

ActionStation has a petition on the issue here if you'd like to sign it (note: this form does not comply with the Privacy Act). But with NZ First involved in the government and holding a blocking majority in parliament, I doubt there will be progress in this term of parliament.

Thursday, May 17, 2018



A downpayment

I think that's the best way of describing today's budget. There were no huge policies, and no surprises - the first because they'd all been dealt with in December, the latter because of the now-usual process of pre-announcement. Neither was there masses of new money for health and education. But there were increases, targeted pretty clearly at rebuilding those key public services so they can begin to meet people's expectations of them. Its a budget which begins to undo the damage of nine years of National vandalism - but only begins. The infrastructural, service, and social deficits National left will take more than a single budget to fix, but this one sends the message that the government is at least starting the job.

Drawn

A ballot for two Members' Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill (Darroch Ball)
  • Broadcasting (Games of National Significance) Amendment Bill (Mark Patterson)

So it looks like NZ First has the ballot mojo at the moment. Unfortunately they're using it for redneck "tough on crime" and free rugby policies, rather than anything useful.

The gift that keeps on giving

Remember sheepgate? Murray McCully's amazing plan to avoid a nonexistent lawsuit by bribing a Saudi businessman with $10 million of public money? McCully may be gone, but his legacy lives on: now, MFAT is being sued over his corrupt deal, by an NZ company angry they didn't get their cut:

An Auckland-based company has started legal proceedings against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) in the High Court, the Herald can reveal.

That raises the possibility of more costs related to the controversial, and still unfinished, project.

The company, Laurium Asset Management, helped put the Saudi businessman who now owns the agrihub, Hmood Al Khalaf, in touch with the National Government.

However, it was left out of the eventual deal, and later wrote to Mfat asking why its intellectual property had been used as the basis for the tender.


It's "intellectual property" presumably being the idea of paying a bribe. But I'm not sure you can claim IP over a crime (OTOH, I'm sure the US Patent Office would grant a patent for it - they do for everything else).

Being sued by National's bottom-feeders adds insult to injury, and hopefully it'll be thrown out of court. If its not, MFAT should dump the liability where it truly belongs: with its corrupt former minister.

Someone is breaking the Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is one of the global community's most significant environmental achievements - the environment treaty that actually worked. But now, someone is apparently breaking it:

Emissions of some ozone-depleting Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have shot up in the past six years, despite a decades-old treaty banning them altogether.

“Atmospheric detective work” has pinpointed a mysterious new source in East Asia that might be responsible for this surge in destructive chemicals.

[...]

However, in a new paper published in the journal Nature, an international team of scientists report an unexpected finding of CFC-11, one of the major ozone-depleting chemicals.

The rate of this substance’s decline in the atmosphere has slowed by approximately 50 per cent since 2012.

This suggests new CFC sources have emerged in recent years, hampering the international effort to completely rid the atmosphere of these chemicals.


"East Asia" probably means "China", and its exactly the sort of behaviour you get in a corrupt state where businesses routinely ignore environmental regulation for profit (see also: melamine in milk). CFCs are cheaper than HFCs to make, so someone is probably just making them and bribing officials to look the other way. A business culture which doesn't care about poisoning children is unlikely to care about destroying the ozone layer.

Except its not just ozone. The CFC they've detected - CFC-11 - is also a greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential of 5350. The Nature article estimates the new production at 13 ± 5 gigagrams per year, or 13,000 tons. Which is equivalent to almost 70 million tons of CO2 - close to the entire gross emissions of New Zealand. So they're not just cheating on Montreal, they're also cheating on Kyoto and Paris, to the tune of over a billion dollars a year.

Hopefully now that this has hit the global media, this pirate pollution factory will be shut down. But the fact that it even started in the first place suggests certain nations have inadequate environmental monitoring - something they need to fix if the world is to collectively address its problems.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018



Wage thieves

Last week, the Employment Court ruled that unpaid morning meetings held by Smiths City were work, and ordered the retailer to pay its workers for them. In the wake of the ruling there were hundreds of complaints alleging similar practices, and it turns out that they are widespread in the retail sector:

Retail workers at the Cotton On Group, the Briscoes Group and Harvey Norman are not being paid for working overtime, according to a union representing retail staff.

The employers are the most recent to be named for alleged illegal pay practices from hundreds of worker complaints laid with First Union, retail secretary Tali Williams said.

Staff complaints were over unpaid preparation meetings before stores opened and being forced to stay after stores closed to "cash up" the counter and clean, she said.


If an employer expects you to do it, then its work, and it should be paid. The refusal of these companies to pay their workers is simply systematic wage-theft. At the minimum, they need to be forced to pay their workers, with backpay and interest. But in the long-term, we need to punish this like any other form of theft. If a person steals a $1,000 TV set, they can face 7 years in prison. But if they steal $1,000 in wages, they don't. If a worker swipes $100 from a till, they can face a similar penalty. But abusing your position of power to steal from your workers apparently isn't criminal. And it needs to be. Because clearly the current situation, where thieving employers face no effective punishment, provides no incentive for them to obey the law.

Manawatū voters are racist

Last year the Manawatū District Council voted to introduce Māori wards to ensure representation for its Māori voters. But racist hate group Hobson's Pledge organised a referendum against the wards, using a racist clause of our local government legislation which allows voters a say on Māori representation, but not on anything else. And sadly, it seems that rural Manawatū voters are indeed the racists Don Brash thought they were:

Manawatū District voters have come out more than three-to-one in opposition to creating separate Māori wards.

Results from a binding poll have come in on Tuesday afternoon, with 7062 voting against, and 2038 in favour.

Some 43 per cent of electors cast a vote, with 18 votes counted as blank and one "informal".

I guess those stereotypes about rural folk being redneck arsehats are at least 75% true.

Meanwhile, Palmerston North is in the middle of a similar racist referendum, and today is the last day to post your vote. I'm hoping we'll have a different result here.