The New Zealand Herald today calls for the Serious Fraud Office to be beefed up rather than axed. Avoiding the corruption arguments I blogged yesterday, the Herald looks at fraud.
There are good reasons to retain the Serious Fraud Office. One of the most obvious was mentioned last week by the Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, when he noted New Zealand was facing the most complex and challenging economic forces for 20 years. The fall-out from this will demand a dedicated fraud-detection agency.
The editorial calls it a fortuitious twist of fate that the Peters inquiry has delayed its fate, also accusing Dear Leader of plumbing 'greater depths of shamefulness' for accusing the SFO of leaking to National.
Putting aside what it calls the wilful underming of government agencies by Clark, it says an extremely busy period lies ahead for the SFO.
This seems not yet to have dawned on the Government, which, in its rush to discard the agency, has forgotten its genesis. This lay in the debris of the 1987 sharemarket crash. Twenty-one years later, as Dr Cullen has pointed out, strong headwinds are again at work. On this occasion, finance companies have shown the greatest fragility, much to the cost of many elderly investors.
Instead, the government has said the SFO's replacement body would focus more on gang crime. But the Herald says current tough times will increase the scope for fraud and it concludes:
In only a few months, events have proved the error of the Government's ways. It should acknowledge this by granting the Serious Fraud Office more than just a stay of execution. The fate of a specialist fraud unit should not rest on the outcome of the general election. Indeed, at this very time, its muscle should be being strengthened.