Minister put on final warning

07:21, Apr 06 2009

Internal Affairs Minister Richard Worth is on a final warning from Prime Minister John Key after embarrassing questions over a private trip to India forced Dr Worth to resign his Indian business interests.

Mr Key made it clear yesterday he was unhappy with Dr Worth's failure to reveal the extent of his business interests published by The Dominion Post yesterday before he sanctioned the trip.

The trip was unwise and he would be insisting on ministers having "exceptionally good reasons" for personal trips overseas in future, unless purely for holidays. "I think it is very unwise if a minister puts themselves in a position where that perception of conflict could be raised."

Dr Worth is one of three directors of an aviation company which, while it has never traded, is in a joint venture with an Invercargill flight training academy to which he brokered a deal while in India.

Though it was a private trip, Dr Worth spoke at a formal ceremony as internal affairs minister about the benefits of New Zealand for aviation training.

Last Friday, Mr Key said through a spokeswoman that he had seen no problem with Dr Worth's request to go to India in a private capacity. "Dr Worth was clear about what he was going for."

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But yesterday Mr Key took the unusual step of releasing Dr Worth's letter to him. It listed his chairmanship of the India Trade Group, a business council, but did not refer to his directorship of New Zealand Aviation, though his involvement was declared in this year's register of MPs' pecuniary interests.

Mr Key said yesterday that there had been no indication in Dr Worth's letter of a potential conflict of interest. "Had I been aware that Dr Worth was a shareholder and director of a company that had an interest in a company that stood to benefit from the visit, I would not have approved the trip."

He did not believe Dr Worth had sought to deliberately mislead him or that he had become a minister to "feather his own nest".

"[But] I believe it was unwise of him to embark on a trip and put himself in this position where the perception of such a conflict could arise.

"Dr Worth has apologised to me, I've accepted that apology. And I've accepted that while he's learnt from this experience, I don't expect to see it repeated."

It is not the first time Dr Worth has landed in hot water overseas while in opposition he was forced to apologise for missing a service to honour the Maori Battalion in Egypt so he could go sightseeing.

Asked if it was Dr Worth's last chance, Mr Key said he was "an extremely patient person, but there is a limit to even my patience".

Dr Worth said yesterday he had resigned all his Indian business interests and stepped down as chairman of the Korea-New Zealand Business Council.

He had never personally profited from any of them but was concerned about perceptions of a conflict of interest. "I basically don't need these sorts of issues around me ... My focus needs to be on being a minister."

The Dominion Post