In keeping with the dominance of political game playing that has been prevalent since the 1980s “neoliberal revolution” recent focus on personality politics has diverted from, and masked the very real structural problems of Auckland Council. These problems relate to the limitations in local democracy, and the way national, and international business-oriented competitiveness obscures the destructive impact of vast inequalities.
The issues for Auckland and Aucklanders are far bigger than the misdeeds or the mayor or any one councillor. Changing the people in these positions will not fix the structural limitations on democratic representation, nor will they prevent further abuses of power within this set up.
As Virginie Ribadeau Dumas reported in September 2010 when comparing changes in Paris and Auckland, the biggest concerns around the then planned supercity structure had to do with limited democratic representation or accountability. local boards are too weak, while the unelected and unaccountable CCOs have too much power and control.
The local boards in Auckland however will not function on such a representative basis. They have no representative link with the Council. In the end, local boards will have no say in the services that are delivered by the Council, or by the CCOs – according to Auckland MP Phil Twyford, the Labour Party representative at the Auckland Governance Legislation Committee.
As set out in the Bill establishing the future Auckland Council, major functions (such as transport, water services and Auckland waterfront development) are to be devolved into CCOs ruled by unelected boards, operating at arm’s length from Council. This separation – as argued by backers of the move – had become necessary due to “local politicians [having] failed to deliver the results expected of them.”
The extent of the plans for outsourcing were criticised with some saying the supercity structure was that of a corporate entity and not a democratic city.
Since 2010, the role of local boards has been strengthened a little. However, the local boards and councillors have limited powers, and that includes their ability to reign in the activities of the mayor. The mayor has presidential-like status, whlie also having limited powers in comparison with the CCOs that manage a lot of the council’s operations.
More concerning that the misdemeanors of the mayor are the criminal activities of some people in senior positions within the CCOs. See for instance, the Herald On Sunday article of 22 December, in which Bevan Hurley reports:
Thousands of dollars worth of roading materials destined for a ratepayer-funded project were delivered to home renovations of a senior council manager, a whistleblower claims.
When the driver raised concerns with the manager, he said he was told to shut his mouth or he would be “chopped off at the knees”.
The driver also alleges tens of thousands of dollars worth of materials were diverted from one project contract to another job.
It comes as a third Auckland Transport employee has left after being investigated during an ongoing inquiry into potential misuse of public money.
The Herald on Sunday understands the employee was from the northern area road maintenance.
The Serious Fraud Office is examining hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts awarded by Auckland Transport.
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is assessing the latest claims made by the driver as part of the office’s investigation into allegations of corruption involving Auckland Council roading contracts.
Auckland Transport at the centre of these SFO investigations is one of the unaccountable Auckland Council CCOs. Why is this blatant corruption not getting the concentrated media attention that has been given the personal and/or ethical (but not criminal) failings of Len Brown and Cameron Brewer?
The recent AUT investigation into the 3 years of the existence of the amalgamated Auckland, show some confusion among residents as to how much control the NAct government has over Auckland compared with the Auckland Council. Aucklanders tend to measure their satisfaction with the council according to their personal circumstances.
According to the AUT report (published before the 2013 election), the general statistics tend to mask the vast inequalities in the city. Youth unemployment, and the struggles of people on low incomes, especially those from Maori, Pacific and Asian backgrounds, tend to get masked by the statistical averages.
Most noticeable in the report is the failings with respect to democracy. The elected representatives fail to fully reflect the diversity of Auckland’s communities, while the CCOs are even more unrepresentative:
The diversity of elected representation in Auckland is disappointing with few Máori and Pacific Islands members on Auckland Council and the 21 local boards, a small number only of ethnic councillors or board members, and not many female directors of council-controlled organisations (CCOs).
There are no women chairing any of the seven CCOs, while four have female deputy chairs.
On this report, a March article on Stuff says this:
The governance roles of the council in relation to local boards and council-controlled organisations (CCOs) needed critical clarification, report co-author and professor Judy McGregor said.
The authority was criticised over health and earning inequalities in deprived areas of Auckland and with Maori and Pacific Island communities. Poor local body representation by ethnic minorities was also raised.
The effectiveness of CCOs was questioned. While well governed, they were not seen to be accountable to residents or have strong oversight from the council.
The in-built limitations of the Auckland Council structure will harm all Aucklanders in the medium to long term. This is because it enables inequalities to grow, while pandering to the wider corporate dominance nationally and internationally.
For Auckland to be a livable city for all, the whole set up of the council needs to be redrafted.