4 September 2006

Koha and lofa

There's been some public discussion about the appropriateness of MPs accepting koha and lofa. It's worthwhile looking at the Cabinet Office Manual to see the present articulation of propriety on this (the Manual only applies to Ministers but in this case is a useful guide for the appropriateness for MPs as well):

PUBLIC DUTY 2.48 Ministers of the Crown are expected to devote their time and talent to carrying out their official business, both as members of the executive and as Members of Parliament representing their constituents. Holding office is regarded as a full-time occupation and is remunerated as such. Therefore: - accepting additional payment for doing anything that could be regarded as part of a Minister's normal portfolio responsibility is not permissible; - accepting payment for any other activities will require the prior approval of the Prime Minister, and any payment received must be declared in the Register of Ministers' Assets and Interests. ... GIFTS 2.68 The exchange of gifts during official government visits is an accepted practice; a refusal to accept is likely to cause offence. Such gifts are, however, more in the nature of gifts to the office than to the incumbent. A Minister may relinquish any gift to the Secretary of the Cabinet to arrange for appropriate display of the item. If Ministers wish to retain gifts received in New Zealand or overseas, they may do so if the estimated value is under NZ$500. If the estimated value is NZ$500 or more, the gift may be retained while in office but must be declared on the individual's schedule of interests. Gifts with an estimated value of over NZ$500 must be relinquished on giving up office, unless the express permission of the Prime Minister to retain them is obtained. 2.69 To avoid the creation or appearance of an obligation, gifts in cash or kind are not to be solicited or accepted from a commercial enterprise or any other organisation. An exception to this would be the acceptance of some small unsolicited token, for example, a presentation made during a visit to a marae or a factory. 2.70 From time to time, airlines invite Ministers to participate in inaugural flights. It is not improper for a Minister to take part in an inaugural flight, but the government should meet the full cost of the airfare.

The question of lafo was raised but left open by Noel Ingram QC in his report (see paras 445 to 453). It's worthy of further consideration. Obviously, principles of integrity and accountability cannot be undermined. However, it's also important to ensure these genuine cultural practices are, to the extent possible, respected. I suspect this means the answer lies somewhere between two extremes, that is, it's not an absolute yes or no to the practice.

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Course Outline

Lord Justice Lawton in Maxwell v Department of Trade and Industry [1974] 2 All ER 122 said:

"From time to time ... lawyers and judges have tried to define what constitutes fairness. Like defining an elephant, it is not easy to do, although fairness in practice has the elephantine quality of being easy to recognise. As a result of these efforts a word in common usage has acquired the trappings of legalism: 'acting fairly' has become 'acting in accordance with the rules of natural justice', and on occasion has been dressed up with Latin tags. This phrase in my opinion serves no useful purpose and in recent years it has encouraged lawyers to try to put those who hold inquiries into legal straitjackets.... For the purposes of my judgment I intend to ask myself this simple question: did the [decision-maker] act fairly towards the plaintiff?"

This course examines the elephantine concept of fairness in the law, along with other contemporary legal issues.

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