Transcript of The Panel discussing Lain Jager interview. Hosted by Susan Wood:
Welcome back to the panel. Bryce Edwards, Fran OSullivan and Matt McCarten. Fran, its very complicated listening to Lain Jager, isnt it, doing business in China?
FRAN OSULLIVAN - NZ Herald Columnist
Yeah, doing business in China is complicated, but I have to say ZESPRI knew damn well what was going on. The warning signs were there. They took legal advice. They could have brought this to a head. They allowed a double invoicing system to go ahead.
SUSAN Which is apparently very common, but he couldnt tell me where else it was actually done.
FRAN Well, actually, its not that common. Its not that common for NZ companies to indulge in it. Maybe elsewhere. But if you go and talk to someone like Mainfreight. Don Braid works all around the world. Of course people try things on, but sensible companies and corporations that want to look after their reputation make jolly clear that they dont go down that route.
SUSAN Cost ZESPRI, Matt, $15 million, including legal fees. Whats the cost to reputation?
MATT McCARTEN - National Secretary, Unite Union
Oh, a lot, but I think that the Chinese are going to get the main blame. I think most people know that in China, youve got to pay money, and theres companies getting pinged all the time, and these state officials, these Communist Party heads are going to jail with tens of millions of dollars in their bank accounts. Gee, that didnt come from a wage. So everyone knows. But I think what ZESPRI- And I think NZ companies come from a culture where were not corrupt-
FRAN Yeah, but its against the law for our companies to do that. Its against the law here. This is the point.
MATT Yes, I know that, but theres a culture in NZ handshakes. Anyone who knows the Chinese, right, its not like that.
FRAN I think the games changed quite a lot for our major companies, and weve just got to be very careful. This is a single-desk monopoly exporter. It carried the NZ name. Its a creature of statute. Its not just any old private company, and that is why its important to flush this out.
DR BRYCE EDWARDS - Political Scientist
And its good having CEOs, exporting CEOs under the microscope and scrutinised today like this, because theres a perception which is possibly a reality amongst the public that theres a unhealthy culture sort of happening in the private sector. We saw a Colmar Brunton poll come out a few weeks ago that said 3 per cent of New Zealanders paid a bribe in NZ. Its extraordinary.
SUSAN I find that amazing.
BRYCE It is, it is. So, you know, these exporting companies are having an impact on the reputations of New Zealanders, and so its good to have this focus. And its not just ZESPRI, of course, with this corruption. Its Fonterra with the melamine, with the [former] head of Fonterra coming out recently and telling New Zealanders that they shouldnt ever trust the Chinese.
SUSAN Sir Henry van der Hayden. He retracted those comments.
BRYCE Yes, but its damaging for us as New Zealanders, so, you know, we need to put the focus on the private sector.
MATT I differ slightly. I think it wont make any difference to ZESPRI or to Fonterra. They are single-desk. They are the most successful.
FRAN No, I dont think it will make any difference.
MATT On every measure, they deliver a better price to the farmers.
FRAN But theyre very lucky not to actually face an inquiry here, and its because they are so big, they are so central to the economy. Because, you know, you cant be doing this, and it is against our own legal framework for our companies to be doing these sorts of things.
SUSAN Well, Lain Jager was very keen to put it into history.
FRAN Well, absolutely. Things have moved it.
MATT It was his first line.
FRAN Things have moved on, because in NZ, things always do move on, and accountability is very rarely shafted home. It wasnt shafted home with Fonterra; it wont be here. Who is going to carry the flag for this in NZ, the can?
SUSAN Yes, exactly. Two men in prison in China for it.
FRAN Wasnt for the BNZ collapse, the DFC, everything. You know, no one carries the can in NZ.
SUSAN Very good point. Well leave it there, panel, thank you.