Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Matter of Trust

"Fonterra botulism crisis was false alarm"

Before the current National led Government New Zealand was perceived as the least corrupt country in the world, but this has dramatically changed with a recent survey that has seen us plummet almost thirty places to a similar level as Spain and Portugal. Transparency International interviewed 1000 New Zealanders and it revealed the following:
  • Political parties are seen as the most corrupt institutions, 75% felt they were effected by some level of corruption and 12% thought they were extremely corrupt.
  • 75% felt that the media is affected by corruption to some degree.
  • 64% of New Zealanders surveyed stated that levels of corruption had increased over the last two years.
  • 3% of those surveyed stated that they had paid a bribe to help with accessing a government service.
  • 79% of new Zealanders believe the country is being run by a few big entities acting in their own interests.
A recent poll revealed that 76.5 percent of New Zealanders did not fully believe what John Key says despite still rating him as an effective leader. After almost five years of this government people seem to have accepted that politicians are essentially dishonest and that such behaviour is just business as usual.

Despite John Banks' obvious dishonesty John Key is happy to have him remain in parliament on a legal technicality and provide the one vote majority to pass numerous controversial bills. We are told that the election mandated this National led Government to virtually do as it chooses and democratic process and consultation are not a necessary part of governance. Whether it be the Skycity deal, the Salisbury and Christchurch school closures or the way the GCSB bill was rammed through, with little attempt to gain cross party consensus, the "right to rule" permeates through National's Governance style. Judith Collins' decision to ignore the Electoral Commission's MMP recommendations, because they didn't suit her party, exemplifies this approach.

This Government is clearly driven by ideology more than evidence and when the evidence is contrary to their plans it is ignored or other evidence is obtained. When John Key was challenged in a BBC Hard Talk interview regarding New Zealand's environmental image and Scientist Mike Joy's evidence was used to question our record, Key stated:

"That's Mike Joy's view, but I don't share that view...he's one academic and like lawyers I could provide you with another one that would provide a counter view."

The Government actively obtained "counter views" on numerous occasions. When advice and evidence doesn't support their initiatives they actively seek and pay for new advice that will provide them with what they want:
  • When the majority of New Zealand's most respected educational academics came out against National Standards and Charter Schools, the Government found US and English academics to support them and placed a UK Charter Schools advocate in charge of the Ministry.
  • When National based its $12 billion Roads of National Significance programme on Gerry Brownlee's opinion, different criteria had do be established to justify them (few passed the usual cost benefit analysis).
  • When a highly respected Canadian juror decided that David Bain deserved compensation, Judith Collins quickly employed a local lawyer to discredit the findings and come to a different conclusion.
  • When the Government decided that they wanted to limit ACC payments, special doctors were employed to overturn original diagnoses. 
I find it very worrying when evidence of botulism was found in a Fonterra whey product by AgResearch, which caused much embarrassment for the company, yet recent "independent research" has found that it wasn't after all. These new findings have supposedly cleared Fonterra and shed a more positive light on their actions. In this environment, where independent evidence is discouraged and the government deliberately manipulates data and evidence to suit themselves, it is difficult to trust anything that comes out as an "official" or "independent" finding. 

Could AgResearch have really got it so wrong? Why weren't these same tests done at the time when the first concerns were raised? When our economy is so dependent on Fonterra's exports how far would the company go to provide "a counter view"? How corrupt have we really become? Is Fonterra becoming the Monsanto of milk? Who can we really trust?

Postscript

I would like to make it clear that I don't actually believe that Fonterra is anything like Monsanto and it is probable that Fonterra products are perfectly safe (however there are still serious questions around Fonterra's handling of the crisis and I would hope the inquiry will reveal shortcomings). The purpose of my post is to emphasize the fact that if we want to be a trusted exporter of food products we need to make sure we have an international reputation for honesty and minimal corruption. Sadly, as with our environmental reputation, our reputation for being an honest society is also slipping. Remember China has already identified that we have failed in other areas where quality control and good regulation is important, our $11 billion building regulation failure. It would be logical to question our abilities to manage quality control elsewhere.

4 comments:

id said...

OK... you got me beat here. As suspicious as I am of this government, I don't reckon one can buy scientific results yet.

The more likely scenario is, I think, still going to be an error.

OTOH, the fact that I can even think about it is a bit scary.

respectfully bjchip

id said...

Almost did it. Now it says I'm the id. What it wants to do this through google and actually get my name right... not sure yet.

bsprout said...

Perhaps not but can we trust the sample sent as the ones from the contaminated batch?

It also seems peculiar that the same tests weren't done immediately a concern was raised, this is too much like damage control after the fact.

I am not generally a conspiracy theorist but after my personal experience of Solid Energy when I opposed their lignite plans in Southland, I am aware of what lengths a company will go to when vast sums of money are at stake.

bsprout said...

bj- I reflected on your comment and have changed the question where I suggested that they bought scientists and this does suggest that scientists are easily corrupted. I wouldn't want that perception to be promoted, however companies can manipulate results through what they ask them to do and how they spin their public interpretation of the findings.