It's looking like the Government has made an embarrassing stuff-up over the controversial decision to allow a Czech criminal to stay in the country after he finishes his prison sentence.
Czech national, Karel Sroubek, is currently in prison for a drug importation conviction, but has had his deportation effectively cancelled by the Government over what appear to be concerns about his safety if he had to return to the Czech Republic. However, reports now show that Sroubek travelled twice to the Czech Republic in 2009, suggesting his fears of returning there are unfounded or untrue. This is covered in great detail in Jared Savage's article, Karel Sroubek aka Jan Antolik went back to Czech Republic twice despite fears for life.
Another very useful article yesterday by Derek Cheng – Investigation called into residency case of drug-smuggler Karel Sroubek - quotes Sroubek's lawyer, Simon Laurent, saying it would be "quite problematic" if it turned out that his client "had been back to the Czech Republic, and that could be established beyond a doubt – then it would undermine the case for the Minister".
The Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges is now calling for Lees-Galloway to resign. As Claire Trevett points out, this is actually the first time that Bridges has called for a resignation from the Labour-led Government, and although that demand seemed "somewhat hollow" at first, and based on what "seemed a low threshold", as time has gone on it seems Bridges "may have struck it lucky" with a fair call – see: Minister red-faced, National in muck over opaque Czech residency decision.
Trevett explains that resignation calls shouldn't be made too freely: "The trouble with calling for a resignation is the more you do it, the less impact it has. Former Labour leader Andrew Little called for heads to roll so often nobody paid any attention at all."
She agrees that the Government has reason to reflect on its performance, especially given their insistence on secrecy, which has denied the public an understanding of what's been going on: "the Government may want to take a long, hard look at its handling of the issue. Voters do accept that sometimes they cannot be told everything. It is tolerated in cases where national security is at issue or there are genuine privacy issues. But there are limits to what they will accept. They generally draw the line when it looks like New Zealand is being hoodwinked by someone with a criminal past."
One commentator is in no doubt that Minister of Immigration should resign – The AM Show's Duncan Garner today called for Lees-Galloway to "offer his resignation" because "He's proven himself to be totally incompetent, absolutely useless over the case" – see: Duncan Garner: Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway should resign over Karel Sroubek case.
According to Garner, the Minister should have been more questioning of his immigration officials, especially about the details of Sroubek travelling freely back home in recent years: "that information would have been easily available, but Lees-Galloway didn't ask enough questions in my view, and his officials cut corners".
Garner doesn't believe that the Minister can simply blame his officials: "It's Lees-Galloway who wears the big-boy pants here, he gets the big salary and ultimately he made this decision." He asks, "How can we have confidence in Lees-Galloway when the next case hits his desk, and the next case?"
Interestingly, however, two opposition politicians appearing on the AM Show today, seemed to disagree with the need for Lees-Galloway to resign. Both National's immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse, and Act party leader David Seymour, wanted to know more before calling for the Minister to resign. Seymour said that the mistake "could happen to any minister", and "We don't know what the facts are. We don't know why it is he appears to have made a decision based on the wrong information. I think it's a bit premature to ask somebody to resign" – see: Duncan Garner confronts Michael Woodhouse with Sroubek-like case under National's watch.
Nonetheless, Woodhouse was still highly critical of Lees-Galloway's decision, which he asserts puts the safety of Sroubek ahead of New Zealanders' safety. Furthermore, the decision seemed unnecessarily rushed: "This guy's in jail, he didn't need to rush the decision. He could have asked his officials to go back, interview, talk to Czech officials. We're not talking about a failed state here... They didn't have to hurry it."
For a stronger defence of Iain Lees-Galloway, see Gordon Campbell's article, On ministerial transparency, in which he argues "we should be pleased that we have an Immigration Minister willing to err on the side of caution when it comes to potentially life and death decisions. In the past, National and Labour governments alike have popped people onto planes back to Saudi Arabia and India and elsewhere with little apparent concern about the consequences."
Campbell also points out that while the issue is embarrassing, it's "hardly of lasting impact" given that Sroubek remains in jail for some time yet, and the situation can now be properly sorted out. What's more, it's mostly just a case that the Minister received "inadequate advice from departmental officials".
According to Campbell, "The lesson for Lees-Galloway is about transparency, not competence. He should have been entirely open about the reason (presumably humanitarian) for his original decision." Likewise, in another article he explains why the Minister may not have been willing to go on the record about his concern for Sroubek's safety: "presumably because doing so could result in those grounds being cited as evidence if and when Sroubek ever comes up for deportation before the Immigration and Protection Tribunal anytime in future" – see: On why deportation decisions should be transparent.
Campbell concludes: "One can only hope the Sroubek case indicates that under the coalition government, New Zealand will be taking a far more humane approach to those seeking asylum here. Yet the public shouldn't be left in the dark to infer this, or forced to take it on faith."
Other commentators are less sympathetic, suggesting that the Government has been naïve. For example, Mike Hosking: "The information that's triggered the review is not new - it's contradictory. In other words the info was always out there, and the Government got stitched up, as we said they had been. Iain Lees-Galloway has had so much wool pulled over his eyes you could call him Shrek" – see: Naive Government duped again on Karel Sroubek's residency plea.
Hosking thinks that all of this could have been prevented by the Government: "All of this was predicted on Monday on this show. And here we are Thursday, and the Government yet again is in a mess, yet again is backpedalling, yet again is reviewing, yet again is going to have to back down and do what they should have done on day one. Lees-Galloway didn't ask questions, didn't do his job, and then doubled down and took his Government's reputation with it. They created the problem, exacerbated the problem, and got caught with their pants down because of the problem. This is entirely their fault."
Finally, there will be some other victims of deportations who might, in the light of this current scandal, now have good reason to complain about an unjust system – see Harrison Christian's Split families slam Immigration Minister over Karel Sroubek decision.