A Sad Indictment of Us All

Larceny of Mental Incompetence?

As far as the great affairs of mankind go, this story represents a raging storm in Thumbelina’s teacup.  In New Zealand, a  Member of Parliament Winston Peters has excelled at playing the electorate with a tawdry collection of truths, half truth, and full blooded lies.  He has done so for years.  Most now treat him with cynical contempt.

In the midst of the present election in New Zealand, Peters has fallen on unexpected hard times.  He has been caught out by a “leak” which confirms over payment of a state benefit.  Peters insists it was a mistake which he has now corrected, with a full refund to the authorities.  Now his ire has turned upon the mysterious leaker.  It is beyond doubt that someone spoke in a “wink, wink, nod, nod” manner to a journalist.  He is a Deep Throat.  The journalist is guarding his source.

What led the government welfare agency to overpay Mr Peters?  It was incorrect information supplied by Mr Peters to the agency.  He either lied (or made a mistake) so as to get more money.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB this morning, Peters said that he declared that he was in a de facto relationship with partner Jan Trotman when he applied for superannuation.  There appeared to have been an alteration to his application form but “no one knows how it was made“, he said.  That meant he ended up getting the single person’s superannuation rate, Newsroom reported, which was $60 more a week than the payments for a person in a de facto relationship.  It was not until Trotman applied for her pension that MSD discovered Peters’ payments were too high. [NZ Herald, emphasis, ours.]

No-one knows how the mistake on the form was made.  Peters insists he did not mislead the authorities; he stipulated that he was in a de facto relationship.  He duly recorded thus on the application form.  But somehow, poof! it was changed.  Clearly, it was the work of Martians, so no-one–neither Peters, nor anyone in the welfare agency–should be blamed.

Sound good so far?   But wait, there’s more.  Peters applied for his old age welfare benefit in 2010.  Every year he received a letter seeking confirmation of his data-on-record.  In other words he had many opportunities to see that the welfare ministry had got the wrong data, and that in fact his payments needed to be altered.  Not a peep from Mr Peters.  His silence was fools’ gold.

So, this is where we have got to.  Either Peters knowingly filled in the form with false information to maximise a benefit, or he did not.  If he did, he should resign immediately on the grounds of larceny.  If he did not fill in the false information but some unknown person altered his form, then he should resign immediately on the grounds of deficient mental capacity.  Over the following years since applying for the benefit he received six letters asking him to confirm all his relevant details with the welfare ministry. He was asked to check that all the details the welfare ministry held on him were correct.  He was asked to disclose any changes in living, marital, or relationship circumstances which would have altered his benefit.  He apparently made no such corrections or disclosures.

So the questions comes down to this: is Peters guilty of larceny and fraud.  Or is he dumber than a sack of hammers?  Or both?

Winston Peters is a kind of embarrassment that democracies throw up from time to time and that serve to shame and humble us all.
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