Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The row over Green MP Golriz Ghahraman and what role she had defending or prosecuting war criminals is but a storm in a teacup, indeed it is more of a little tempest when it comes to it. Outside the Wellington beltway, the commentariat, and one or two others, it is likely to be of little interest. It certainly will not spell the end of her career, although it will tarnish her reputation and remove some of the credibility of her backstory as New Zealand's first refugee MP.

Its timing, though, is unfortunate, coming at a point when the new Government's commitment to openness and transparency is being exposed as less than wholehearted. It will confirm for some that this new Government is all pious talk and unctuous handwringing ahead of action, with style outweighing substance. While the jury is still out on how competent this Government is going to be, it does need to become more sure-footed than it has been, and to start to control the political agenda, rather than just keep on reacting to it, the way it did in Opposition. The Ghahraman incident is a small but timely worry in this regard. At the very least, it should prompt the Government Whips to check through the backgrounds of all their MPs, if they have not done so already, to check there are not more embarrassing skeletons awaiting discovery.

On a broader level, Ms Ghahraman is by no means the first public figure whose curriculum vitae has been found to contain items that might be politely described as ambiguous. She is not the first MP in recent times to have had questions raised about their backgrounds - National's Dr Jiang Yang and his role in training Chinese spies comes readily to mind, and there have been others. Not too many years ago, there was the case of the chief executive of Maori Television who disappeared rapidly after his c.v. was exposed as false, and there have been tragic cases of health professionals revealed as charlatans. Fraudster Dr Linda Astor, and in an earlier time, Milan Brych, come quickly and sadly to mind.

Now, of course, Ms Ghahraman (nor I suspect Dr Yang) are in this latter league of deception and it would be foolish to even suggest so, however obliquely. Rather, the point is far more about the risks inherent in the practice that used to be known as "gilding the lily".

In that regard, political parties have to take a measure of the blame. There is no escape from thorough due diligence on prospective candidates' and MPs' backgrounds to ensure that there are no surprises waiting to pop-up at an inconvenient moment, and that everything is as it should be. The Australian Liberal and National Parties are discovering now to their dramatic cost that some checking of the citizenship status of their MPs before they were elected might have been in order. I know directly what failure by a Party to do this checking can mean - UnitedFuture was obliged to surrender an MP in 2002 when she was found to not have been a New Zealand citizen at the time of her election. Today, the Green Party needs to accept some responsibility for Ms Gharhramn's plight, just as the National Party needs to do in respect of Dr Yang.

There is one final reason why both the Ghahraman and the Yang cases should be taken more seriously than they might otherwise be. In today's diverse environment, prospective MPs are likely to have had more broadly based, often international,  experiences than was previously the case when MPs came from more predictable stables. The prospect of over-exaggerated or blurred c.vs. is therefore that much greater, the pressure on parties to have done appropriate due diligence that much stronger, and the public tolerance for ambiguity correspondingly that much less. Today's communication environment means reputations can be instantly established. Politicians and political parties need to appreciate those reputations can also be more instantly destroyed.   
      



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