Wednesday, 18 August 2021

MIQ's Aristocracy of Pull

This week's column at Newsroom went through the problems in allocating MIQ spaces by political pull. Unfortunately, Newsroom's version strips out the links; the version on our site has them. 

A snippet:

The surest way to a space in MIQ, for the past sixteen months, has been political influence. Those with political influence get spaces. Those without it are forced into a broken room booking system. Getting a room through that broken system seems to be a full-time job all on its own: some would-be travellers have even hired people to sit at a computer and hit the refresh button, all day long, on their behalf.

But for those with political pull, things are a bit easier.

Last August, in the leadup to an election, the Provincial Growth Fund considered horse racing tracks to be vitally important pieces of infrastructure. An all-weather track in Cambridge needed specialist workers from overseas.

Entry into MIQ was then relatively simple.

Minister Faafoi’s spokesperson assured everyone that officials made the decision without input or advocacy from politicians.

And he was surely right.

No such advocacy was needed.

Criteria for entry always prioritised workers essential to the continued operation or construction of critical infrastructure. As soon as a horse racing track was considered critical infrastructure, the system’s gears turned and spaces for those workers were available as priority.

Horse racing, before last year’s election, had political pull. So horse track workers could use the MIQ express lane.

The America’s Cup was also a government priority. The government had already provided a substantial subsidy for the boat race and did not want it to fail for want of spaces in MIQ.

Because the government made a boat race a priority, all officials then needed to do was follow the rules. Over seven hundred entry visas followed for the racing crews, technical support, family of the syndicates, and even a nutritionist for one of the teams.

International film projects have political pull. So even Kirsten Dunst’s nanny was deemed an essential worker.

The Wiggles’ fan base gave them political pull. When the normal channels did not lead to a space, the Prime Minister’s suggestion that a space should be found seemed to do the trick.

The rules make it harder to get into MIQ if you are not a New Zealand resident. Political pull can turn a stalled immigration process into a fast-track so you can travel abroad and be eligible for MIQ for your return.

And political pull meant some four hundred MIQ spots are being saved for bureaucrats, businesspeople, and performers heading to a trade expo in Dubai in October. In 2017, the National-led government had committed over fifty million dollars for a pavilion for that expo. The government has considered it a priority. Once it is a priority, there will be spaces. That is how the system works.

Families split by the border and a lack of MIQ spaces cannot compete with any of that. The rules ensure that those with political pull can find a way through. Longstanding insiders have political pull. More recent migrants who have not seen their families for a year and a half do not.

The system seems corrupt – but not in any bribe-taking sense. Instead, it is corrupt in what seems a particularly Kiwi sense of the term. No money changes hands. No officials or Ministers are bribed. None need to be. The corruption instead is baked into the rules of the system providing a fast-track for those with political pull.

Officials follow the rules of a game that was rigged from the outset.

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