13 May 2016

Publicly available ownership register action too uncertain

6:05 pm on 13 May 2016

Moves by the government to create a public register of company ownership that would include foreign beneficiaries, has been described by Transparent International as a "quantum leap" from its position a month ago.

Judith Collins (left) and Sam Lotu-Iiga (right) talking before Ms Collins's re-appointment as a Minister 14.12.15.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Police Minister Judith Collins, who has been at the anti-corruption summit in London, said the register was part of its commitment to combat global bribery and corruption.

Ms Collins said there was a big global problem with money being siphoned off from things like aid programmes and she did not want it ending up in New Zealand.

"The world has changed. And it has particularly changed around big money, around terrorism, around drug dealing, around major corruption, and it's the sort of area we always needs to be looking at changing, and I think it's something we should be looking at."

But the anti-corruption charitable society's New Zealand chair Suzanne Snively said the government's soft stance was disappointing.

It should make a commitment to set up the much-needed register rather than just "explore" the possibility of doing so, she said.

"We were concerned when we saw this because its not gone far enough given the importance and the optics around the occasion. Here we are with other world leaders and we're regarded as the leader in terms of integrity."

However, Ms Snively said it was important to note this was big step for a government that was not too long ago defending its disclosure rules.

"From where the government had positioned itself a month or so ago, this is a quantum leap. When people don't have knowledge about something, quite often their first reaction is to be defensive," she said.

"What's happened in the last month has been a wake-up call to understand why these are issues."

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said this was a u-turn by the government.

Andrew Little during caucus run 1.03.16

Labour leader Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

He said the registry contradicted Prime Minister John Key's reassurance that New Zealand's regime was transparent.

"It would be really disappointing if the only reason Judith Collins has said that [the government might set up the register], is to give an impression to the rest of the world that we're on top of this and we mean to do something about it, when in fact the government has no intention to do anything about it," he said.

"That's why they need to come clean. Tell us what is the policy. Would the real anti-corruption policy please stand up."

Business New Zealand said a public register was important to make sure people were being taxed correctly.

Its chief executive Kirk Hope said the register would help fill in the gaps in the current system.

Identifying beneficial owners could be a challenge but it would be made easier if it became a requirement before registering a company, he said.

"It might require some additional administrative matters which would be a negative, but nevertheless it's a pretty minor negative in the scheme of things," Mr Hope said.

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