Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Citizenship is not for sale

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Maurice Williamson said he never intended to interfere in a police investigation. Photo / Getty Images
Maurice Williamson said he never intended to interfere in a police investigation. Photo / Getty Images

Whenever the Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin releases its annual Global Corruption Perceptions Index, New Zealand comes up smelling of roses.

Last year, the index, which looks at the public sectors of 177 countries around the world, ranked New Zealand first equal with Denmark as the country with the cleanest government. That will change unless the Government stops selling citizenship to the highest bidder.

Maurice Williamson is the latest scalp in the latest immigration scandal. He resigned his ministerial portfolios this week after the New Zealand Herald revealed he had phoned a top-ranking police officer over charges a wealthy businessman was facing - a businessman who had made a $22,000 donation to the National Party, and whose citizenship had been championed by Williamson against the advice of officials.

Shortly after being granted New Zealand citizenship - and having the ceremony conducted by Williamson in his own office - multi-millionaire businessman Donghua Liu was facing domestic assault charges.

Williamson phoned the big cheese at his local police station and told him the police needed to be very sure they were on solid ground in relation to the charges as Liu was investing a lot of money in the country.

What planet is Williamson on when he thinks any police officer in this country will tell his squad "No, hang on, guys. Cancel that investigation into Liu. He's a mate of Maurice Williamson's - drive him home and tell his missus to lay low for a while." What on earth did Williamson think he was going to achieve with that phone call?

As it was, the police handled the meddlesome minister well. The trail of emails reveals that Williamson originally contacted Superintendent John Tims - the district commander for Counties Manukau - who referred the inquiry to his Auckland counterpart, Superintendent Mike Clement. Clement then gave Inspector Gary Davey the hospital pass and told him to follow up the request for information from Williamson. Davey told Williamson the police would be continuing their prosecution and the best advice he could give Liu would be to have him seek good legal advice.

So the police 1: Cabinet Minister, nil.

Incredibly, Williamson seems to think he's done nothing wrong. He told reporters he regularly contacts police on behalf of constituents but refused to say whether he'd ever done so in cases where charges were laid. He accepts the Prime Minister's assertion that MPs and ministers must never involve themselves in prosecutions, and that's why he's resigned his portfolios, but he says there was never an intention to interfere with a police investigation, which is why he wants to stand again for Pakuranga, the seat he has held for nearly 30 years.

I have met Williamson a number of times over the years, and I don't think he's a bad person. I don't think he's corrupt and I'm sure he doesn't condone domestic violence. But his lack of judgment is symptomatic of a person who has been cosseted for far too long.

For most of his life, he's lived a rarefied life in Parliament. He hasn't had to worry about where his next dollar is coming from; when he's been in government, he's had drivers and staff and expense accounts to cushion him from reality - he has no idea any more about what is considered fair and reasonable by your average Joe Blow. Phoning police officers in the middle of an investigation and warning them to be on solid ground is not on.

And nor is the sale of citizenship to this country. All politicians need to know that $22,000 is far too cheap a price to pay to become a Kiwi. Citizenship needs to be earned, not bought.

• Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB Monday-Thursday, 8pm-midnight

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- Herald on Sunday

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