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Sunday
Jul102016

Ruataniwha - "A Travesty"

Hawkes Bay Today published an article on Thursday by HBRC Councilor Tom Belford who has oonsistently questioned every aspect of the proposed Ruathaniwha dam, that reflcts the negation of the democratic process that is effectively and selectively used by councils all over the country. It is just that the HBRC example is one of the most egregious, considering that it involves the commitment to $80m of rate payers funds and liability. 

It represents exactly the manner in which business has been conducted here in our Council over the past two terms, if not on quite the same scale - hiding discussion and dissent behind closed doors under the guise of "explanation." And note that Tom will be running the risk of being put through a 'disciplinary' process for publishing views that may reflect anything that took place behind the 'public exluded' barrier. It is indeed a "travesty."

Here is Tom's article:

"Tomorrow, I and other regional councillors will be asked to confirm that all pre-conditions necessary for the release of $80 million in ratepayer funding for the Ruataniwha irrigation scheme have been met, thereby allowing the project to proceed.

The substantive discussion around whether the financial conditions have been met, including examination of Deloitte's independent financial review, will be held in a public-excluded session.

Only behind closed doors will councillors be able to seriously ask questions or probe assumptions about the project finances, since HBRIC and HBRC have deemed as confidential the necessary detail that would inform prudent examination. The public will be privy to none of this inquiry.

Instead, the public will be granted a pro forma public session of the council to ratify the proposal.

Tomorrow, we will be asked to ratify the proposal with:

• No public identification of the institutional investor or bank lender(s);

• Negotiations still under way with financial partners, details unknown;

• Confirmation of some water sales still "in the mail" and sales needing to be higher to meet all financial obligations;

• No legal certainty that HBRIC has complied with Board of Inquiry conditions mandating independent peer review of dam design, leaving open the possibility of further cost increases and legal liability;

• No required resolution of outstanding legal challenges regarding the land swap essential to enabling the scheme or regarding consents to expand the dam footprint;

• In fact, with respect to the land swap, with the suggestion that council funds might be expended on construction even while the legal issues remain unresolved; and,

• Having been briefed by Deloitte (again, behind closed doors), absorbing and acting on what they report within hours of receiving their advice.

If one were specifically tasked with concocting a decision-making process offering the absolute minimum of transparency, due diligence and responsible financial and legal stewardship on the part of councillors, this would be the process. It's an abomination.

Nevertheless, it is the process that will force this scheme down the throats of Hawke's Bay ratepayers on Friday, because it's a process that, as usual, enjoys the sleep-walking support of councillors Wilson, Dick, Scott, Pipe and Hewitt.

The Auditor-General, in her findings in the matter of Kaipara Council negligence permitting huge cost overruns with its Mangawhai wastewater scheme, emphasised "the need for members of a governing body to have the courage to keep asking questions until they understand what they are deciding".

She noted that the Kaipara Council had "relied too heavily on its professional advisers and had a practice of receiving briefings and effectively making decisions in informal workshops".

She added: "Workshops cannot replace considering properly prepared and circulated papers at formal meetings of the council."

Disregarding those warnings (I urge all councillors to read her report), the controlling five members of the regional council are determined to push the dam over the line this week, prematurely and for no apparent substantive reason, with all important information discussed behind closed doors.

This process is guaranteed to further damage the reputation of the council with, I submit, the vast majority of those in Hawke's Bay watching this process.

I will use every opportunity I'm afforded tomorrow to challenge this travesty - but, I expect, to no avail."


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