Editorial: McCully has many more apologies to consider

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NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon Murray McCully (left) and Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter meeting in Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenha
NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon Murray McCully (left) and Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter meeting in Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenha

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has apologised to the Prime Minister for this diplomatic immunity debacle. His apologies should not stop there. He owes another to the state of Malaysia for suggesting it was entirely to blame for the immunity granted to a junior military officer at its High Commission in Wellington who was facing charges of burglary and assault with intent to rape.

When Malaysia's Foreign Minister responded that New Zealand had been a party to the decision, Mr McCully released an exchange of letters that seemed to give the lie to that claim. A more cautious minister would have suspected there was more to it when his counterpart had such a different understanding of events. Mr McCully ought to have checked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade before New Zealand said anything more.

Too late, he discovered that the ministry had been saying one thing in a letter to the High Commission and another thing in discussions with the Malaysians.

Mr McCully then had to admit his ministry may have given them "mixed messages" about whether it wanted Muhammed Rizalman Bin Ismail to be prosecuted in New Zealand.

When the minister has made amends to Malaysia, he could offer apologies to those his ministry has wronged in this country. He should start with the 21-year-old woman who was the victim of Ismail's alleged offences. Ministry officers appear to have been complicit in denying her justice. Then he ought to take responsibility for the way the ministry has handled this case and apologise for that.

Clearly, the ministry wanted the matter dealt with quietly and kept quiet. The incident occurred early in May yet Mr McCully says even he knew nothing about it until last Friday when the Herald on Sunday inquired into what had happened. If diplomats keep even their own minister in the dark over an issue of criminality, something is seriously wrong in the department's culture.

It may be that the minister lacks the trust of his officials, possibly dating from his scapegoating of the ministry head, John Allen, when drastic staffing reforms went septic early in the Government's life. Or it may be that diplomats have always regarded immunity as a subject to be kept within their profession. Their behaviour in this instance suggests they go to some trouble to look after each other.

They exchanged formal letters in which the host requested a waiver of immunity and the accused's Government's refused it. Yet all the while they were having informal discussions with the Malaysians who say they were willing to waive immunity but the host allowed them to invoke it.

Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said yesterday, "The New Zealand side had offered an alternative for the accused to be brought back to Malaysia."

Mr McCully wants to know why he was not told about this before he and the Prime Minister faced questions in public. He is too quick to blame his officials, again.

He ought to have made sure of his ground before allowing what he now calls, "the unseemly situation" in which he and Mr Aman were contradicting each other.

There ought to be no doubt of New Zealand's position when a foreign representative is accused of a serious crime. A waiver of immunity should always be sought strongly. If immunity is invoked the fact ought to be made public, and it ought to be disclosed immediately, not concealed as this was for six weeks. If New Zealand invokes immunity for one of its own, the same principles apply.

Diplomats may be immune to a host country's punishment but not to disclosure of the disgrace they represent.

- NZ Herald

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