A further illustration of how democracy in NZ has become a mere illusion. From Veronica Harrod.
Commentary; Why an Inquiry needs to be held into the business interests of Horowhenua District Council and other matters
Here’s a little story that demonstrates how and why communications is used as a weapon by Horowhenua District Council to drive strategies and plans that favour the financial interests of a small group of businessmen on the economic development board.
A communications strategy to assist the economic development board members secure outcomes favourable to their business interests was identified as one of six priorities by a council Growth Response Team comprising the Chief Executive Officer David Clapperton, Economic Development Manager Shanon Grainger and council in 2016.
Priorities include (1) Reviewing the Horowhenua Development/Growth Plan (2) Developing the Levin Town Centre Plan (3) Developing a Horowhenua Traffic Management Plan in support of the Horowhenua Development/Growth Plan and Levin Town Centre Plan (4) Investigating and establishing an Investment vehicle to drive the plans forward (5) Developing a Horowhenua 2030 Strategic Plan and developing a Communications Strategy to support the above initiatives.
The public are being “consulted” on all these plans and strategies now and council has voted to support the establishment of an Investment Trust initially comprising economic development board members which council’s chief executive David Clapperton will “assist” for the first two years. Deputy mayor Wayne Bishop voted against mayor Michael Feyen also being involved in the establishment of the trust.
Make no mistake. These plans and strategies the community are being consulted on now are entirely dedicated to advancing the interests of the economic development board. Up to 40 percent of public assets owned by council may be sold to finance the board’s new lethal toy which the Investment Trust is. Perhaps the public would prefer any sale of public assets to write down increasing debt levels or set aside for essential infrastructure projects. All the projects the Trust want to drive rely on the council plans and strategies being favourable to their business interests. Which is why we are actually at what is referred to as a tipping point. Everything is converging that will cement the board’s control of the council and the community in a final and irrevocable way.
A communications strategy that refers to the Investment Trust as “by the people for the people” is nothing more than empty words simply because it is not true. Board chair Cameron Lewis used those words to describe the Trust’s activities which is a very effective communications strategy. What’s not to love about “by the people, for the people” right? But the Investment Trust is the board’s strategy and it advances the financial interests of board members.
Holding only four relatively obscure public meetings on the district’s first, very important, draft 20 year Long Term Plan is a deliberate communications strategy. Holding the only Levin public meeting at the Aquatic Centre instead of Te Takere is a deliberate communications strategy. Interestingly enough the council considers it important enough to hold a public meeting on the new expressway at Te Takere though. Which it is but so too, surely, is it important to hold public meetings on council’s draft documents at Te Takere too. No doubt the council and Otaki MP Nathan Guy intend on whipping up community opposition to the north eastern route because it extends across land and property development projects in the north east being driven by council and land developers and included in the 2008 Horowhenua Development Plan which the community were not consulted on.
Isn’t Te Takere supposed to be the hub of the community and yet not one public meeting on council’s draft documents is being held at Te Takere. All of a sudden the Aquatic Centre has become the place where council holds public meetings. It would be bizarre nonsense if it was not able to be explained as a deliberate communications strategy. Not referring to the documents as “draft” plans is a deliberate communications strategy. In the public notices section of a community newspaper the draft 2018-2038 Long Term Plan is referred to as, “Consultation in preparation of 2018-2038 Long Term Plan.” It is not called a draft document which is very concerning.
Bombarding the public with, I have counted ten consultations so far running simultaneously, is a deliberate communications strategy. It ensures minimal public participation because the public is drowning in “consultation” documents. But the council and economic development board, when they are questioned, can turn around and say, “the public was consulted.” A complaint is being laid with the Office of the Auditor General on governance grounds.
If the public want to participate in a serious and considered way there are at least eight separate and complex documents on the 2018-2038 draft Long Term Plan alone. And that is just one draft document. Say each document is approximately 200 pages, and this is conservative, means having time, energy and capability to read approximately 2000 pages and understand complex financial information. Then after reading approximately 2000 pages the public then require the capacity to analyse the draft plans and strategies to understand the consequences of the impacts. After I read the draft Horowhenua Growth Strategy 2040 Consultation document was available on the council’s website in the “have your say” section I went to download a copy. But it wasn’t available. The growth strategy replaces its predecessor the 2008 Horowhenua Development Plan (HDP). The 2008 HDP is essential a land developers bible with 12 land development projects alone in the Levin section of the plan. Increasing urban density which the public are being “consulted” on now is recommended in the Implementation section of the 2008 HDP.
I say the word consultation in quote marks because overwhelming the public with plans and strategies and decisions can only impede not facilitate consultation. But this is a deliberate communications strategy too. The public generally think communications strategies are about informing the public. They are not. The most sophisticated communications strategy, which board member and former Satchi and Satchi head Antony Young no doubt knows a lot about, is all about manipulating communications to advance third party interests; in this case the third party interests are the economic development board’s financial interests.
But to continue with my own experience I phoned the council and asked the customer service representative who answered the phone where the growth strategy was. She looked for it and couldn’t find it. She sought assistance before telling me that the draft Horowhenua Growth Strategy 2040 was within the web link to the draft 2018-2038 Long Term Plan!! A normal person would think well, that’s pretty stupid, isn’t it. Why is a totally unrelated draft document buried underneath another draft document on a separate matter? The answer is how communications is presented is also a deliberate communications strategy.
But when I went to the link I realised I had simply been fobbed off because the draft strategy document wasn’t there either. So I phoned the council again and asked to speak to council’s communications advisor Trish Hayward and she spent some time away from the phone before coming back to me and saying a group manager had not signed it off which is why it wasn’t available. But, I said, there is a public notice saying it is available. This kind of communications behaviour is a deliberate communications strategy.
All the plans and strategies the public are being consulted on now represent the apex of the economic development board’s plan to secure their own financial interests which is why a report will be submitted to appropriate government representatives and agencies calling for an Inquiry into the business interests of Horowhenua District Council and other matters.
The argument in favour of holding an Inquiry is based on the Western Australia 1991 Commission of Inquiry into the business interests of the state government. Perth premier Brian Burke and other government representatives engaged in business dealings with several prominent businessmen including Alan Bond, who was the most well known. These dealings resulted in a loss of public money, estimated at a minimum of $600 million and the insolvency of several large corporations [source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WA_Inc].
The main and primary results of a Royal Commission that was subsequently set up to investigate the Commercial Activities of Government and Other Matters found state politicians were using their own version of our Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act inappropriately and, as it transpired, illegally to hold meetings in private to plan and scheme business deals that resulted in the loss of public funds. The Commission of Inquiry was only set up due to the actions of strong public advocacy by the activist group, People for Fair and Open Government.
This out-of-control juggernaut must be stopped in its tracks which is also why council chief executive David Clapperton should not be reappointed to the role of council chief executive. He is compromised by his close relationship with the board and his own conflict of interest. In November 2016 he set up a land development company with his wife Catherine Whitehouse which contravenes his contract with the council. He did not declare his conflict of interest for three months. When he did the council public notice did not state the general nature of the matter that would be discussed, as required by law, and the former chair of the Finance, Audit and Risk committee deputy mayor and land developer Wayne Bishop allowed him to declare the conflict of interest in a publicly excluded session of council on the grounds of “commercial sensitivity” without informing the public why that part of the meeting would be publicly excluded. Which he is required to do under the Local Government Act.
We are talking about the professional behaviour of key figures within council including Mr Clapperton and Cr Bishop. Suffice to say Cr Bishop is no longer the chair of that particular committee which, one would hope, means democracy does work except it doesn’t and it isn’t. Not in Horowhenua. The Horowhenua people don’t know what democracy looks like anymore much less what it feels like. No wonder there is a high rate of ill-health in the district. Mayor Feyen, who is also on the MidCentral District Health Board, was quoted in a local newspaper saying, “research was needed to help understand why the district’s people suffered a high incidence of health issues.” The pressures of living under a regime where the ratepayer is effectively held hostage by a council that funnels public money into private business and takes no notice of the community’s preferences is not healthy. Democracy has been eroded by the council and key figures within council that are acting on behalf of a small group of businessmen and their financial interests across Investment, construction and land development industries. The Investment Trust explicitly says council, Government and private equity will fund projects. Yes, projects that directly financially benefit board members interests. It is time to hold an Inquiry before the Trust and the economic development board convince the Government to pump economic development funds into the Trust under the guise of economic development.
WA Inc was a political scandal in Western Australia. In the 1980s, the state government, which was led for much of the period by premier Brian Burke, engaged in business dealings with several prominent businessmen, including Alan Bond, Laurie Connell, Dallas Dempster, John Roberts, and Warren Anderson. These dealings resulted in a loss of public money, estimated at a minimum of $600 million and the insolvency of several large corporations.
Veronica Harrod is a qualified journalist with a Master of Communications specialising in traditional and new media content. Investigating and reporting on political, economic and legislative trends that negatively impact on the day to day lives of people is one of her main areas of interest. Lifestyle content she is interested in includes celebrating our own especially the tireless work community advocates do as civil citizens participating in democracy to keep those in power on their toes. In a media age dominated by a multi billion dollar communications and public relations industry paid to manipulate information to protect and advance the interests of the few over the many there have to be journalists who are impervious to the all pervasive influencial role they have over local and central government and corporate interests.
For more information on Veronica’s professional qualifications see her Facebook page.
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