National is promising to do more to stamp out corruption:
A National Government will back the Serious Fraud Office to do more to stamp out corruption, National Party Leader Judith Collins says.
“New Zealand’s most successful crime fighting agency will get the resources it needs to deliver on its stated role as the ‘lead law enforcement agency for investigating and prosecuting serious financial crime, including bribery and corruption.’
“National will double the Serious Fraud Office’s budget, from its present total budget for the 2020/21 financial year of $12.7 million to $25 million a year.”
Ms Collins says it doesn’t make sense for the lead agency battling fraud, bribery and corruption, with the greatest legal powers to uncover those things, to be playing second fiddle to other government agencies working in this area.
“The SFO will continue to work alongside the likes of the NZ Police’s Financial Intelligence Unit, but it will have the funding it needs to do the job it was established in 1990 to do.
“The SFO has statutory powers that other New Zealand crime fighting agencies do not, including powers to compel the production of information and to require witnesses and suspects to answer any questions put to them without the right to silence. But these powers aren’t being given enough opportunity to be used.
“The SFO takes very few prosecutions, not because there isn’t fraud, bribery and corruption in New Zealand, but because the office doesn’t have the resources to do its job properly. The office needs more investigators and more resources to work with its domestic and international counterparts.”
Ms Collins acknowledges New Zealand is regarded as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, but says that’s no reason for complacency.
“The SFO says the threats to our reputation as a relatively corruption free country ‘have probably never been greater today than any other time in our history.’
“National agrees, and we’ll resource the office properly to do the job New Zealanders expect it to do.
“In a way it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you aren’t searching for something you’re unlikely to find it.”
New Zealand is usually at or near the top of lists for less corruption but being less corrupt than other countries doesn’t mean we have no corruption.
Maintaining our reputation and stamping out corruption must be taken seriously, and financed properly.
Ms Collins says National will also change the office’s name from the Serious Fraud Office to the Serious Fraud and Anti-corruption Agency.
“We would change the office’s name because we think New Zealand needs to better understand the types of crime fighting it is responsible for.
“Over many years the SFO has developed a reputation for targeting the private sector, in part due to its self-publicised focus on ‘white collar crime.’ Many people think this means the big end of town, but that’s far from the office’s only focus.
“We want people to know the office’s mandate and focus goes well beyond the world of investment, accounting and banking. It also tackles fraud, bribery and corruption in local government, community entities and iwi trusts.
“It prosecutes wrongdoing in infrastructure contracting, project tendering and central Government, including ministries, Crown agencies and political parties.
“In many ways corruption in the regions has the greatest impact on New Zealanders, by eroding small communities’ trust in institutions they deserve to believe in, and depriving them of resources they desperately need.
“We think the name the Serious Fraud and Anti-corruption Agency makes it much clearer what the office’s business is, and why anyone thinking about trying to circumvent the laws of New Zealand should be aware that an agency exists to stamp out that behaviour.”
By a happy coincidence this announcement came yesterday when the SFO announced it has filed charges against two people involved in the New Zealand First Foundation investigation.
The SFO has filed a charge of ‘Obtaining by Deception’ against two defendants in the New Zealand First Foundation electoral funding case. The charges were filed on 23 September.
The defendants have interim name suppression and so cannot be named or identified at this time. We note, however, that neither defendant is a Minister, sitting MP, or candidate in the upcoming election (or a member of their staff), or a current member of the New Zealand First party.
The SFO has no further comment.
The announcement comes just in time.
The SFO said it would make an announcement before the election. Overseas voting begins today and early voting opens on Saturday.
The announcement would have been a little earlier had Winston Peters not taken the SFO to court:
. . . An SFO spokesman said NZ First brought proceedings against the office to stop it issuing a media release, on September 23.
The court ruled in favour of the SFO, the spokesman said, and released a statement on Tuesday when the timeframe for appealing the decision lapsed.
The statement was amended after the court challenge, due to the upcoming election, “to reflect the categories of people that were not charged”, he said. . .
That it has taken the SFO so long to file charges supports National’s policy to better resource it.