Justice Minister Kiri Allan has this afternoon “taken the necessary steps” to register a potential perceived conflict of interest with the Cabinet Office over the fact that Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon donated to her 2020 campaign.
This morning, 1 News revealed Meng and his wife Ying Foon donated $1500 to her 2020 campaign, and a company called Triple Eight Investments Limited also provided a rent subsidy worth $9185.
Meng and Ying Foon are directors of Triple Eight Investments. The pair also donated $1,000 to the National Party’s East Coast branch at the last election.
As Justice Minister, Allan has responsibility for Human Rights Commissioners, and should have declared the potential perceived conflict with the Cabinet Office, despite the fact Allan was not the Minister when Foon was appointed or when the donations were made.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins drew attention to the fact that Allan was not obliged to declare the $1500 donation as the threshold for declared donations technically begins 1 cent higher at $1500.01.
“There was no requirement under the Electoral Act for the donation to be declared as it was not over $1500, but for the purposes of transparency Kiri Allan chose to,” Hipkins said.
Foon was appointed Commissioner by then-Justice Minister Andrew Little in 2019, during its first term in Government. Allan was a backbench MP at the time.
Hipkins said “[i]ndividuals who hold public office must always act impartially in their roles regardless of the government of the day. However many individuals who have been appointed to public roles have had associations, or affiliations with various political parties”.
“An example of this is National MP Jackie Blue who was appointed Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission in April 2013, while she was still an MP,” he said.
Hipkins said Allan had “taken the necessary steps to register the matter now that she holds the Justice portfolio. The Minister has also assured me that she has not made any decisions in her portfolio that bring this potential conflict into play”.
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Hipkins noted the fact the Foons also donated to National.
“His balanced approach to supporting various candidates regardless of their party affiliation is something that used to be more common in New Zealand and has always been acknowledged as an acceptable way to contribute to their community,” he said.
Earlier on Friday Allan only recalled the in-kind donation of reduced rent. In a statement on Friday afternoon, she recalled the second donation.
“It is fair to say I couldn’t recall all of the details of all of my donors when questioned earlier, but having had the opportunity to review I can say I also declared a $1500 cash donation from Meng and Ying Foon in 2020 as well,” Allan said
“The in-kind donation I referred to was from a company that the Foons were directors of, for a rent subsidy on a campaign office space. This was a campaign office, not an electorate office, and no parliamentary funds were used,” she said.
She said all donations had been “accurately and appropriately reported as required by the Electoral Act”.
Justice Minister Kiri Allan and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo / Dean Purcell
Allan added she was “confident there haven’t been any decisions I’ve been involved in where this conflict would need to have been managed.”
The Human Rights Commission - Te Kāhui Tika Tangata - said it was taking the news story “extremely seriously”.
In a statement, the commission said the stories “raise questions in terms of his perceived neutrality.
“It is stated that one of these donations was in support of Labour MP for East Coast, Kiritapu Allan. The reports indicate that the donations occurred two years before Allan was appointed as Minister of Justice.
“Commissioner Foon has commented that his family is known to support leaders locally, from across the political spectrum,” it said.
“The appointment of a person to the role of a Human Rights Commissioner after having held previous public roles always requires careful management. While the Commission does not make such appointments, it takes the issue of neutrality extremely seriously,” it said.
Prior to joining the Commission, Foon served multiple terms as Gisborne mayor, a local community to which he has demonstrated a deep commitment and in which he holds a unique position.
The appointment of a person to the role of a Human Rights Commissioner after having held previous public roles always requires careful management. While the Commission does not make such appointments, it takes the issue of neutrality extremely seriously.
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