Herald Editorial says "Give it back"

Editorial: Starship should give money back – 14 Dec 2007 – Opinion, Editorial and reader comments from New Zealand and around the World – nzherald

[quote]The Starship children’s hospital should immediately return the cheque it has received from the New Zealand First Party. This money is public property.

Winston Peters has given the $158,000 due the taxpayer to a charity of his choosing. If any other taxpayer did this the Inland Revenue would pursue him for the debt.

Mr Peters has not technically broken the law but only because he has used his party’s votes in Parliament to help legalise the spending at the last election that the Auditor-General believes to be wrong. He has always disagreed with the Auditor-General’s ruling and had wanted to contest it in the courts. But he has dropped this action, he says, because he could not have gotten a decision before the election next year and did not want to face the election accused of refusing to pay back “stolen money”.

So he has given it to the Starship. It is extraordinary that the hospital has accepted the money in these circumstances. It perhaps has not given enough thought to the implications.

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It is letting itself be used for a petty political purpose. Mr Peters is using public sympathy for sick children to avoid a payment he believes his party should not have to make. Rather than accept the ruling against him and return the money to the public purse he has put the amount in a place he calculates to be beyond public reproach.

The Starship is being cynically used and must know it. The hospital is part of the public health service. By accepting a donation that properly belongs to the public revenue it is complicit in an act of political manipulation and potentially depriving parts of the health service that may be less well endowed of funds.

If the hospital means to keep this money it is obliged to explain to taxpayers why it believes the NZ First Party was entitled to dispose of the misspent election funds as it wished. This is not a political-legal dispute a public hospital would be wise to enter. The Starship would be well advised to return the cheque or, even better, pay it into the public accounts where it belongs.

As for Mr Peters, the public doesn’t seem surprised. Stunts of transparent nonsense have long been his preferred mode of operation. Most people have ceased to take him too seriously. He is excused for impish behaviour that would not be accepted from anyone else in public office.

Seldom, though, has he displayed such contempt for public opinion and public finance as he has on this occasion. He freely admitted yesterday that the misuse of party allowances at the 2005 election was an issue “on which the court of public opinion had already made its final ruling”.

Since his party could not get a contrary declaration from the courts before the end of next year, he said, it proceeded to raise the amount the Auditor-General ruled that it owed but it was not willing to see the money disappear into the Government coffers.[/quote]

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