NZ can't escape conflicts of interest

Labour's call for the New Zealand Government to halt its broadband initiatives over an alleged conflict of interest smacks of desperate smearing because the party is 30 per cent behind in the polls.

Labour's call for the New Zealand Government to halt its broadband initiatives over an alleged conflict of interest smacks of desperate smearing because the party is 30 per cent behind in the polls.

New Zealand has waited long enough for ultra-fast broadband (UFB), and any delay will only damage our economy further, which as Labour also likes to remind us, isn't doing terribly well.

The kerfuffle stems from Bruce Sparkes, who is an official in the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) overseeing government broadband policy. But in a past life, Parkes worked for Telecom New Zealand and was noted for a somewhat staunch defence of his then-employer, especially on competition matters.

Last week, when Telecom New Zealand was fined a record $12 million for anti-competitive behaviour, Parkes was named in the case by the judge when he published his findings.

Scenting scandal, a desperate, muckraking Labour Party is demanding a halt of both the Rural Broadband Initiative (RFBs) and the UFB projects, alleging that Parkes has been too favourable to his former employer.

Now, the appointment of Parkes to his MED role was no great secret. It was welcomed by the right-leaning Kiwiblog, and Labour politician Trevor Mallard recognises his talents too.

Until last week's court judgement, Labour had few, if any, complaints against him.

The issue is: has the New Zealand government been unduly influenced by having a former Telecom man have some say in broadband policy and the rural broadband decision?

I somehow doubt it. The case presented by Telecom and Vodafone would have stacked up and passed any independent rigorous scrutiny. And major decisions like rural broadband will have been passed by all of the cabinet, not just by ICT Minister Stephen Joyce.

In addition, New Zealand and its ICT sector is small, where everybody knows everybody, and there are not enough top-level jobs to go around. Remember, while everybody else talks about there being six degrees of separation, here we just have two — which is how our domestic mobile phone company Two Degrees got its name.

Thus, in his long and successful career, it is likely that Parkes, like anyone else, will have had his finger in many, if not all the pies! He will have been both poacher and gamekeeper. He will have sat on all sides of the fence as well as on it.

Still, while he might be eminently qualified, in the years to come Minister Joyce would be wise to turn down a Telecom directorship, should one ever be offered!

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