The seeds of dissent

The seeds of dissent

The seeds of dissent

The run up to this year's general election has been a
rather lack lustre affair. Our incumbent Labour government was untroubled by the
electoral efforts of the opposition parties. The opinion polls were predicting
an unprecedented Labour victory, opposition was at best ineffectual or worse
non-existent. Then Nicky Hager released his expose on the alleged government
cover up of corn grown from seeds tainted with genetically modified material. If
true, the integrity of the government's moratorium on GM crops was at risk.

Suddenly, we saw cracks in the Prime Ministers professional
stoicism. She was seen scrambling, in passionate denial, whilst under intense
grilling from a television interviewer she now affectionately refers to as the
"little creep". The denials continued with such intensity that many of us
would have been struck with that nascent feeling that the "lady doth
protest too much".

Hager was labelled a conspiracy theorist and the NZ Green
party who pushed the issue were accused of being malicious. An expert scientist
was rolled out to endorse the government's position only to have his
credibility challenged. He had worked for one of the large food companies that
had a commercial stake in the suspect crop. Then in an ill conceived move our
officials claimed that the seed was not GM tainted but some soil from the
planted area had affected the test sample. This had the semblance of the
government leaping wildly out of the pan, the highly expensive imported seed was
fine but our soil, the substance of our agricultural wealth was GM polluted.

Whether a cover up actually occurred is debatable if you
accept the government's line. There is little doubt, however that regulations
were passed to permit the planting of the tainted corn after the fact. Although
our "Corn-gate" may lack the political suicide of its more infamous US
predecessor and the misplaced integrity of our recent "Paint-gate" it does
raise the issue of accountability.

Do our publicly elected officials and their non-elected
officers have the right to withhold information and act in secret? In a follow
up article published by the NZ Herald, Hager recounted that the instant reaction
of "the Government when it was informed about the contaminated crops was
secrecy, which served to shut the public and any alternative sources of advice
out of the decision-making"
. By contrast, international food companies
such as Heinz-Watties were influential in ensuring that the corn remained in the
ground. At the time serious consideration was given to removing the affected
crop to safe guard our claims of being GM free. In the end the crop remained.
Cynically this was not surprising, as the cost of removal and subsequent losses
should have been borne by the multi-national that supplied the seed. Hager had
found that the international food companies involved were given huge influence
over the options and advice presented to Government. This, Hager states, shows
how business-friendly government can quickly become undemocratic government.

Whether the corn is safe is secondary to the key issue that
special interest groups are being allowed to subvert the democratic process of
keeping the NZ public properly informed. The idealists amongst us will strongly
claim that all information held by the government is received on behalf of the
people of this country. Secrecy, if allowed at all, can only occur in the most
exceptional circumstances and not to safeguard the integrity of our elected
officials or promote the interests of influential groups who have the ear of
those officials.

Information is the seed of knowledge from which comes
understanding that enables us to become wise and from that wisdom we are able to
be righteous in our actions. The founder of this paper spent much time warning
people of the duplicitous nature of many governments. The actions of our
government in this affair do little to allay any concerns that our executive is
free from the counsel of the self-interested. We must continue to be vigilant,
open government is our right in this democracy and it is our responsibility to
ensure that our elected officials do not "walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers." Psalms 1:1