The Hastings Council is happily trumpeting what it regards as a “seal of approval” from Audit New Zealand for its handling of the Higgins donation to the sports park in exchange for non-tendered contract work.

Reading the full report, one gets the sense that HDC skated right to the very edge of the thin ice on this one. The ice might still break in October.

Says the report: “We and those we spoke to during our review acknowledge that this arrangement is very unusual in the public sector context. It was probably to be expected that the arrangement would give rise to concern by some as to its appropriateness. However, an unusual arrangement does not in itself make it inappropriate. Its appropriateness needs to be assessed within a legal, policy and good practice framework.”

Written like a true bean-counter!

What makes this deal appropriate or not is, frankly, how the voting public judges the ethics of the deal, the signal it sends regarding future contract/donation “opportunities,” and fundamentally, whether this is the way we want our Council to do business.

In short, is this a deal to be proud of?

Keep in mind that the auditors noted they could not vouch for the legality of the arrangement: “We are not legal advisors and consequently we cannot provide full assurance over the lawfulness of the Council’s and the Trust’s actions.”

Keep in mind that the report acknowledged potential conflict of interest issues that it urged the HDC and Sports Park Trust to get a better grip on.

Keep in mind that the reviewers spoke to one critic of the deal, and to no other potential contractors.

This finding is like the IRD confirming that multi-millionaire Mr X indeed paid no taxes, but did nothing “inappropriate.”

Maybe so, but that doesn’t remove the odour … let alone make the practice admirable.

Is the Higgins sports park contract/donation deal one to be proud of … and even replicate? I suggest you ask that simple question of  Mayor Yule, each Hastings Councillor, and each candidate standing for election this year.

Tom Belford

P.S. The full report is contained in the Agenda for the 24 June Council meeting.

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3 Comments

  1. hell , i don't know! maybe it WAs a good deal…a oncer! I've just been in Italy for a month and this all sounds like pretty small stuff…maybe some of us just aren't getting out enough!

  2. It may well be cleared from an audit point of view, however I agree with your hesitancy Tom; this practice does not make for good public practice.

  3. But the aquisition of the money and it's distribution was undemocratic. Firstly, would the tender have been successful if the donation was for another council entity – say the library? No. It was strategically targeted at Mayor Yules pet hobby horse.

    All council funds should be spent on democratically selected lines – HDC received a windfall of half-a-million so why didn't they ask the ratepayers where to spend it?

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