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Auckland in search of democracy

Written By: - Date published: 12:59 pm, December 24th, 2013 - 29 comments
Categories: accountability, auckland supercity, class war, democracy under attack, infrastructure, transport - Tags:

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?

media and democracy

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.

 

 

 

29 comments on “Auckland in search of democracy”

  1. Sacha 1

    “local politicians [having] failed to deliver the results expected of them.”

    Expected by whom, is the key.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      Expected by the rich and business people. Neither National nor Act think anybody else matters.

  2. captain hook 2

    the thing is they have a democracy but the whining rightwingers dont like it.
    They thought wodney was going to deliver up JOhn Banks as the great white hope but the peoples choice was still is Len Brown.
    When that happened they enlisted bluberguts to organise a lynch mob but that didn’t work either.
    I hope they choke on it.

  3. One Anonymous Knucklehead 3

    Market failure. Again. Is there a single shred of truth in the whole neo-liberal corpse?

  4. Grumpy 4

    Maybe the left just needs to list what immoral and illegal behavior they are prepared to tolerate and from who. Otherwise everyone here would be clamouring for a full audit by the AG from the top down.
    As usually happens, when the top is corrupt so is the rest.

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 4.1

      The whole setup is rotten, a natural consequence of being created by Rodney Hide: changing the players won’t fix it; corrupt dogma makes for corrupt law.

      • karol 4.1.1

        Yes, with a more truly democratic council we wouldn’t have had the whole dodgy (government pressured) SkyCity deal, and we wouldn’t have the government stalling the council on a transport system that truly serves all Aucklanders; we’d have had more focus on doing something urgently about unaffordable housing, especially rental housing; we’d have had more attention to the high amount of youth unemployment in the city. …. etc, etc

        • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1.1

          Yes, with a more truly democratic council we wouldn’t have had the whole dodgy (government pressured) SkyCity deal…

          The central government shouldn’t have been able to make that deal at all. It should have been solely up to Aucklanders via referendum. And agree with everything else you’ve said as well. Since this government got in they’ve been making it worse for a lot of Aucklanders so as to pay out to the corporates.

    • karol 4.2

      Yes. What can you expect from a morally and ethically bankrupt government and CCOs?

      • grumpy 4.2.1

        there is some truth to that. A government on it’s game would have sent in the heavies by now unless there is something embarrassing waiting for them…….

  5. RedLogix 5

    I suppose this is as good a point to mention that a trusted friend of mine has first hand evidence of a massive property development fraud that has fallen between the cracks as the Super City was being formed.

    Something in the order of $100m (yes that’s right) of ratepayers money has been used to benefit a major private developer.

    There are various people who know exactly what I am talking about.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      I’m going to have to point our that if you know of something like that and have evidence then it needs to be reported to the SFO. Not reporting it encourages the corruption to fester.

      • RedLogix 5.1.1

        Oh yes DtB. Not a lot more I can say at present. I realise this isn’t satisfactory but it’s not really my story to tell in detail.

        • Murray Olsen 5.1.1.1

          Be careful, RL and whoever else knows about this. $100 million is way above the threshold for people to be disposed of, literally or figuratively. I hope the story comes to light and whoever uncovers it is very, very careful. There are many ways to destroy a person, with perhaps the most obvious being the planting of kiddy porn on their computer. Luckily, our police and intelligence agencies are honest and responsible and would never participate in such acts.

  6. Steve 6

    Karol, who appoints the CCOs?

    • karol 6.1

      The CCOs are complicated structures that operate a bit like SOEs.

      They are kind of accountable to the council, but, as quoted in my post above they:

      CCOs ruled by unelected boards, operating at arm’s length from Council.

      The CCO directors are chosen by a select committee of councillors and the mayor. There’s a similar selct committee to review the CCOs performance. Though only about 50% of votes for CCO directors and trustees come fromt he council.

      But the aims of the CCOs are set by the CCO shareholders “both commerical and non-commercial”.

      Basically the structure weakens the extent to which councillors can influence the CCOs. Also, there are too many corporate/commercial interests involved in pressuring their directions. Further, the complex, hand-length structure means there’s a lack of direct accountability or transparency to enable the public to be able to assess their performance.

      Ultimately the CCO directors and boards were selected in a way that was very corporate friendly. While, in theory there seems to be some checks and balances re accountability of the CCOs, in practice, the way CCOs are not directly controlled by elected representatives, but appointees, from within the higher levels of or status/wealth hierarchy, means the ability to hold them to account is weak.

      Thus, Mayor Brown had little real power to influence the way the mayor responded to the behaviour of the Ports of Auckland in their dispute with MUNZ. Councillors had even less influence.

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 6.2

      Rodney Hide appointed them. No wonder there’s so much corruption.

  7. Will@Welly 7

    The re-modelling of Auckland into a SuperCity was for one thing, and one thing only. It was to remove democracy from the people. Make the structure as undemocratic as possible. That’s why Rodney Hide was in charge. Remember, Banksy was the heir apparent, but he fell at the final fence.
    By taking away the democratic voice from Aucklanders, how were they supposed to voice their concerns when National/Act started to divest Auckland of its assets, the real goal behind the amalgamation.
    National are keen to see similar amalgamations around the country, simply so they can flog off all the assets to their mates. The real test will be in Christchurch, which is asset rich, but cash poor. Sell the assets now and in 15 – 20 years time, say hello to Detroit.

  8. Philj 8

    Xox
    They were promoting the sale off of Christchurch Assets just last week to make up for the shortfall.

    • Sacha 8.1

      On that front, Lianne Dalziel vs Gerry Brownlee will be fascinating to watch this year.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.2

      I’m pretty sure that National and their backers were rubbing their hands together over the Chch earthquake and the opportunity it would give them to turn NZ even more feudal sell state assets.

  9. Matthew 9

    I just skim read the article but I presume the unelected Maori Board was heavily attacked given the tone of the article?

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