5 Aug 2009

Field case linked to drop in MPs' standards

6:48 pm on 5 August 2009

A former Labour Party cabinet minister is drawing a link between Taito Phillip Field's criminal convictions and a decline in the standards of MPs.

Field has become the first person in New Zealand to be found guilty of corruption and bribery as an MP.

He was found guilty on Tuesday of 11 corruption and bribery charges and 15 of obstructing the course of justice.

The Crown had accused the former Labour MP for Mangere of 12 charges of bribery and corruption, and 23 charges of attempting to obstruct or pervert justice.

The charges relate to immigration help he gave to Thai people in return for work on his properties and creating falsehoods to cover his actions.

Former Labour cabinet minister and political historian Michael Bassett says all MPs need to be aware that favours can never be accepted in return for administrative decisions.

Mr Bassett says party leaders need to send a clearer message to MPs.

The Labour Party says it has no regrets about the way it handled accusations against its former MP.

When allegations arose regarding Field in 2005, the prime minister at the time, Helen Clark, set up the Noel Ingram inquiry which took nearly a year to complete.

Prime Minister John Key says the previous Labour-led Government wanted to "park" the issue for political reasons.

But Labour's chief whip Darren Hughes says the issue arose in the heat of an election campaign and was dealt with swiftly.

Mr Hughes says if it had taken longer to set up the inquiry, Labour would have been accused of trying to push the matter out past the election.

Jail possible

The Field verdicts followed a 16-week trial at the High Court in Auckland and each charge carries a maximum seven-year jail term.

Crown Prosecutor Simon Moore told Morning Report the case was complex and because of the nature of the charges it was always going to be a long drawn out process.

Mr Moore says while there is obviously a need for a deterrent message when it comes to sentencing he will be reserving his comments on what penalty is appropriate until Field is sentenced on October 6.

Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith told Morning Report he has a sense of sadness that a former minister and MP has been convicted of serious charges.

He says MPs are involved in a lot of work where they are trusted by members of the public.

Dr Smith says the verdicts show questioning in Parliament can be effective.

Supporter labels trial flawed

A supporter of Field says it is the justice system which is corrupt and not him.

Close friend and former Pacific Party board member Esther Tofilau says the police investigation into his actions was a farce and officers were after a high-profile scalp.

She also believes the court process itself was flawed because most of the jurors were from a European background and would not understand the Pacific tradition of gifting.

A past chair of the Samoan Advisory Council Tino Pereira told Morning Report Field did much to help Pacific communities, which is why he is still held in high regard.

However, an Auckland builder who gave evidence Field's trial has dismissed claims by the Samoan community that the former MP is being persecuted.

Keith Williams worked with the Thai tiler Sunan Siriwan on the former MP's house in Samoa and wrote a letter to government ministers about Field's dealings.

Mr Williams believes the guilty verdicts are fair, saying it is not believable that a person in Field's position could be naive about the issue of gifting.