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Westpac gifts to Ministers a potential conflict of interest

Westpac’s gifts to Ministers a potential conflict of interest

Senior government ministers and their staff continue to regularly accept generous corporate hospitality from Westpac Bank at a time when the Government’s master banking contract, held by Westpac, is under review.

A series of Green Party written questions has revealed a widespread pattern of treating government ministers and their staff. Nine ministers were found to have accepted corporate hospitality from Westpac Bank in the last year, including box seats at the Rugby 7s, dinner at the White House restaurant, and tickets to rock concerts. Thirteen ministers had staff who had accepted similar hospitality from Westpac.

“The Government needs to reconsider the way they regularly accept gifts from large corporates like Westpac. These gifts aren’t neutral; they buy access to decision makers in an unfair way,” said Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman.

“Ministers accepting personal gifts from Westpac creates a potential conflict of interest as the Government is actively considering retendering part, if not all, of the banking master contract.

“Most New Zealanders can’t afford this kind of access, and hence it corrodes the public’s belief that we are all equal in the eyes of the Government.

“The fact that so many ministers had staff who also accepted Westpac’s largesse is disquieting, given the central role of ministerial staff in influencing the decisions of their busy Ministers.

“There’s an important difference between doing business in a friendly way and using money to buy access to power.”

Westpac acts as the Government’s banker, undoubtedly the largest banking contract in the country. It covers a wide range of Government departments’ banking needs and the contract hasn’t been retendered since 1989. In December 2010, Finance Minister Bill English indicated his intention to “run a procurement process for government banking designed to achieve value for money for the Crown.”

Dr Norman said, “One way to allay people’s concerns over undue influence in Westpac’s case would be to have a competitive tender for the master banking contract. Westpac’s 20-year monopoly needs to be opened to competitive forces to ensure the taxpayer is getting the best value for money from the Government’s banker.

“Another way to avoid all suspicion is for the Cabinet Manual to be more explicit about accepting gifts.

“Ministers and their staff need to accept that they must work to a higher ethical standard when it comes to corporate treating. We need to keep politics honest.”

Transcript of answers to written questions:

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