Questions on Worth's India trip

00:43, Apr 05 2009
WORTH RESIGNS: Mr Worth was minister for Internal Affairs, Land Information, Archives New Zealand, and the National Library, and associate minister of Justice.

Questions are being raised over a senior government minister's trip to India, where he spoke on behalf of the Government while brokering private business deals.

Internal Affairs Minister Richard Worth is adamant there is no conflict of interest in his private six-day trip made with two other National MPs last month.

Prime Minister John Key said he was aware of the trip and had no concerns.

Dr Worth is one of three directors of an aviation company that he says has never traded. But it is in a joint venture with an Invercargill flight-training academy for which he brokered a deal in India.

While there, he also spoke at a formal ceremony as internal affairs minister about the benefits of New Zealand for aviation training.

Labour MP Pete Hodgson said Dr Worth had "pretty interesting boundary issues" and Mr Key should explain how this was acceptable. "I'm not sure that it would be that appropriate to purport to be a New Zealand minister when you're on a private trip," Mr Hodgson said.

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"How is it you're drawing a ministerial salary in New Zealand while undertaking what might be self-serving business interests offshore?" He said he would ask questions in Parliament this week.

The Cabinet manual states ministers should be particularly careful of conflicts of interest due to their influence, power and the information they have access to.

"Ministers must conduct themselves at all times in the knowledge that their role is a public one; appearances and propriety can be as important as an actual conflict of interest," the manual says.

Dr Worth has interests in Indian trade that pre-date his election to office. He is chairman of India Trade Group, a business council which aims to strengthen our trade relationships. He is also a director of the Indian Overseas Group, which he says has never traded and is due to be wound up, and has investments in JP Morgan Indian Investment Trust.

He is a director of New Zealand Aviation, a holding company that has never traded but that formed a joint venture with Southern Institute of Technology to attract Indian student pilots to Invercargill. Dr Worth said he was not involved in that joint-venture company.

While in India, Dr Worth oversaw the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Southern Institute of Technology Aviation and an Indian aviation club.

He spoke at a formal ceremony, as a government minister, expounding the virtues of New Zealand for aviation training and told local media the New Zealand Government wanted to form stronger ties with India.

Dr Worth said there was no conflict of interest in the trip.

He and his fellow National MPs, Eric Roy and Kanwal Bakshi, paid for their own flights to India during parliamentary recess in February, going on a private visit to promote the interests of India Trade Group.

He said he did not stand to make any money from the trip.

A spokeswoman for Mr Key said Dr Worth had sought permission from the prime minister to travel to India in a private capacity.

"Dr Worth was clear about what he was going for. The prime minister saw no problem with that."

In 2002, Dr Worth apologised after he chose to go for a camel ride rather than attend a commemoration service for the Maori Battalion in Egypt while he was there on a taxpayer-funded trip.

The Dominion Post