A more secure society? Some people had a hard time imagining troublemakers in the media contributing to national security but New Zealand Journalism Organisation executive director Bill Southworth explained how freedoms of information works its magic. foi vs corruption Would FOI — freedom of information legislation — really change anything? What are the kinds of things it might expose? Participants were asked to come up with situations where FOI laws might help stop, real life examples or not. Travel abuse was one. “When I asked about travel they told me that we live in a global village. We don’t live on an island on our own. We are obligated to be at these meetings,” said one reporter. “That’s true,” responded Southworth. He gave the environment and global warming as examples of important international issues, especially for islands not very high above rising sea levels.
“But,” even so, “each time they travel, they should still have to justify it.” This brought other examples of corruption, including > a minister who travelled to Saudi Arabia to learn how to grow lemons. > another minister who went to Israel to learn how to grow oranges. > more recently, ministers who have gone to the Olympics to act as “spectators.” > funds taken from the Outer Islands Development Grant Fund. > controversial New Zealand property developer Mark Lyons being given a 12 month residency permit. > awarding of government contracts, allegedly without proper due process. “Corruption is like a cancer,” says Southworth. “It starts to kill the body of the state.”Doubts remain about the strength of arguments for FOI laws. “If the three legs of the stool — the government, courts and parliament — are not independent from each other, then what’s the point of having freedom of information?” asked one reporter. She had seen many stories written on the quarterly audit reports come to nothing. Institutions like the Public Service Commission and the Ombudsman would do nothing even when faced with multiple media reports. Not only here but in countries like Fiji, where $14 million in local purchasing orders walked out the door of one ministry, people lining up to get everything from rakes to outboard motors for themselves, she said. You can pass all the rules and regulations you like, said one audit officer in response, “but it really comes down to the calibre of the leaders voted by the people. If they are also bad leaders then there will be bad government.” Southworth says this is why it is important media have access to freedom of information laws. “How can voters make an informed choice if they don’t know what has been going on?” Voting is not so much for the opposition as against the government because “when we vote for the opposition, we don’t really know what they are like.” Oh no? “It just takes one month,” observed one participant, dryly.