Rodney Hide: Niue deal squeaky clean

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Labour Leader Andrew Little this week got the political blunderbuss out and blew off both feet and then his arms. Photo / Ben Fraser
Labour Leader Andrew Little this week got the political blunderbuss out and blew off both feet and then his arms. Photo / Ben Fraser

Labour Leader Andrew Little this week got the political blunderbuss out and blew off both feet and then his arms. He never grazed his target.

In my view, his was a disgraceful display of nastiness and political incompetence not expected of a rookie opposition MP and gobsmackingly awful for a would-be Prime Minister.

I refer, of course, to what Little would have you believe was Niue-gate.

I should say at the outset that I have known Earl Hagaman and his wife Lani for 20 years, that I greatly admire them for their business success, what they provide New Zealand, their philanthropy and their integrity.

Little alleges Hagaman's $101,000 donation to National at the last election and his company Scenic Hotel Group winning the contract to manage the Matavai Resort on Niue "stinks to high heaven", made worse by the Government spending $7.5 million to upgrade the resort.

But the Hagaman donation was correctly registered and made public, as the law requires. There was nothing underhand or secret.

The resort is not the Hagamans'. It is owned by the Niue Tourism Property Trust on behalf of the Government of Niue.

The Government did the resort's development to boost tourism to Niue, which has doubled. The project is regarded as a success. The development benefits the Niue Government and people, not Scenic Hotel or the Hagamans.

The trustees of the resort are New Zealand High Commissioner to Niue Ross Ardern (Labour MP Jacinda Ardern's father); MFat Deputy Secretary Jonathan Kings and former NZ High Commissioner to Niue (and Wellington Mayor and National MP) Mark Blumsky. The trustees appoint the board of directors of Matavai Niue Limited (MNL), responsible for the resort's operation. They are Ian Fitzgerald (chair), Bill Wilkinson, Toke Talagi (Premier of Niue) and John Ingram.

That's a distinguished list.

In 2013 Auckland firm Horwath HTL did an independent review for the board and, among other things, recommended the appointment of a hotel management company.

The following year, on behalf of the board, Horwath ran an Expressions of Interest and Request for Proposals process that culminated in the consideration of two proposals with the recommendation of Scenic Hotels. The board agreed.

The transaction was not just arm's length, several oceans of separation lay between the political donation and the management contract. There is no evidence of impropriety. The process would appear a model of probity.

Meanwhile, Little has besmirched a successful and highly regarded business couple, a New Zealand business success story, senior government officials, his own MP's dad, and the Premier of Niue.

National sails on untouched. Little is on camera weaving and dodging the obvious questions and backpedalling on his original concerns.

Politics can be nasty. It's often incompetent. Somehow Little has managed to plumb new depths.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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Rodney Hide

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