The minister, CEO and top cop: We expect accountability

Three recent stories serve as reminders that we have every right to expect much from those given power over us

Yesterday I had a little dig at Peter Dunne about being accountable for his vote on the SkyCity convention centre deal, the negotiation of which he has described as "very fast and loose at times". It's a theme worth exploring a little more, as I fear we may be getting lax in what we expect from public figures.

The old saying, based on the gospels, is that to whom much is given, much will be expected; as I grew up that ethos seemed core to the New Zealand way of life. Yet three examples from the past week suggest those with power in this country seem unwilling to live up to those standards.

Last week I heard ACT leader John Banks on Morning Report talking about his party's conference. Asked if it was hard to lead the party when he had been laying low because of the 'cup of tea' and Kim Dotcom donation, he replied "You haven't given us the opportunity to get out there".

Interviewer Simon Mercep said Banks had been invited on many times. I don't know how assiduous Radio New Zealand has been in issuing invitations to Banks, but I tend to believe Mercep over Banks. On Q+A I invited Banks on the programme last year week after week -- it became something of a running gag between me and his press secretary. He repeatedly refused. Even when we wanted to talk not about Dotcom, but about charter schools, he still declined. That's right, charter schools --ACT's one substantial policy initiative this term, a policy for which Banks as associate minister has responsibility. And he wouldn't talk.

So his argument that he hasn't been given the opportunity to talk is just nonsense. Yet somehow he thinks it alright to make such an outrageously false statement.

Today, a select committee has been held in parliament to discuss Solid Energy's financial collapse. The CEO who led the company through ten years of good times and bad, Don Elder, will not front. Just as he will not front for media interviews.

As the Greens have pointed out today, in the 12 years he was CEO he was paid over $10 million of taxpayers' money. So much has been given to him, yet it seems he doesn't think we have the right to expect any accountability in return.

Decisions were made on his watch that need to be explained, examined and learnt from; his silence is unacceptable. Surely any sense of integrity demands that he answer questions about what went wrong. It's as if he watched former Pike River Coal Chair Gordon Ward refuse to appear before the Royal Commission on the mining disaster and thought, 'there's a plan'.

Like Ward he made great promises for mining as a growth industry and enjoyed the good years, yet when things turn bad he disappears. 

Finally, on TV3's new 3rd Degree programme last night, Melanie Reid's story on New Plymouth car clamper Daniel Clout revealed footage of New Plymouth police area commander Inspector Blair Telford arguing over a clamping fine, after an unmarked police car was clamped. Telford said:

"Let's hope it's not you that's getting the life kicked out of him... let's hope it's not you getting the shit beaten out of him for clamping a car and we can't turn up because somebody else is..."

He doesn't finish his sentence. Now you might argue he's making the point that the lack of access to the police car is interrupting police business. But there's a sinister air to that, a veiled threat. The suggestion -- from that and other comments by local police -- is that Clout somehow couldn't expect the same treatment from police as any other citizen. As aggravating as Clout may be, the worrying tone throughout the piece was that police saw themselves as somehow above the law.

In all these cases people with significant power are failing to realise the obligations that come with such power -- in a word, accountability. They have been given much, so we have every right to expect much in return. Much, much better.