It is entirely appropriate that the auditor-general, along with Nelson City Council's chief executive, are being asked to review Mayor Aldo Miccio's personal involvement in a new Chinese e-commerce venture.
Details of Mr Miccio's involvement as co-director and chairman of a company set up to source New Zealand products to sell in China have sparked plenty of speculation since being reported in the Mail during the past fortnight.
Mr Miccio, his parents and wife hold 15 per cent of the shareholding in NZ Inc Shop. The company will be accessing the potentially huge Chinese e-market through a subsidiary of giant trader Alibaba.com.
Mr Miccio has been expressing excitement about the potential for Nelson and New Zealand companies for some time.
No issue there. It is obvious that New Zealand's economic fortune and future will be increasingly tied to China's.
It is not necessarily problematic for Mr Miccio that he and his family stand to profit personally from involvement with the NZ Inc portal to the vast Chinese market. Mayors and councillors are quite within their rights to earn a living outside of their life as local authority representatives.
However, as business leaders and others have since pointed out, perceptions can be powerful forces.
People holding public office need to not only separate and distance their public and private interests, but to avoid any danger of them even being questioned. Transparency and the need to be painfully pedantic about accuracy and detail are key.
The Office of the Auditor-General and the council's chief executive are likely to be reviewing three main areas. Did the mayor engage in personal business during any part of two ratepayer-funded trips to China this year? Is there any conflict of interest between his role as mayor and his involvement with NZ Inc? And, did he properly disclose his interest in the company to fellow councillors when or before funding for the trips was being discussed?
Mr Miccio describes the way the story has been portrayed as disappointing, although he concedes he understands why "ill-informed" people would be concerned. He says he has been building business relationships in China for two decades, and his involvement with NZ Inc has come about through work he was doing long before he became mayor.
Clearly, his links with China and his role as mayor would have opened doors for Nelson businessmen who accompanied him on this year's two visits, and any spinoffs for third-party New Zealand companies should be acknowledged and welcomed. Trade delegations led by mayors and MPs tend to be taken more seriously in China than those simply involving businessmen, and Mr Miccio's presence on the Nelson trips would have received a further lift given his long involvement there.
Hopefully, the review of the mayor's activities and interests will reach an unequivocal and speedy conclusion. Speculation about whether the whole process has been above board can only be damaging to the office, and help undermine the "good news" story that Mr Miccio is keen to promote.
- © Fairfax NZ News