On Thursday the Regional Council announced that CEO Andrew Newman would relinquish his HBRC post, temporarily, so as to officially spend 100% of his time advancing the $600 million dam project on behalf of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC), the wholly-owned offspring of the Council.

The announcement is pure cosmetics, through which HBRC hopes to calm escalating public worries, and specifically those of Mayor Yule and Arnott, who have publicly expressed serious concern about HBRC/HBRIC conflicts of interest, and specifically concerns about Newman’s dual role.

As the mayors wrote in their complaint regarding Newman to HBRC chair Fenton Wilson: “A Council is reliant on receiving independent information on all aspects of a project but most particularly the financial risks to the ratepayers. We do not believe this is possible when the same person is the ‘hands on driver’ of such a project. In our opinion these roles should be separated.”

On paper, the HBRC has separated the roles. But in reality, the only practical effect of this fig leaf is to allow Liz Lambert to officially exercise all the authorities Council has normally delegated to its CEO. She can affix the common seal and sign cheques.

However, when it comes to the dam, obviously all the pertinent staff ‘working at HBRIC’ (a piece of paper, after all) to advance the dam are HBRC employees still reporting to Newman wearing his HBRIC hat … and dancing to his tune.

HBRC’s media release says that current General Manager Operations Liz Lambert will become the interim HBRC Chief Executive, and she “will be responsible for guiding Council through its decision on whether or not to invest in the Ruataniwha Storage Scheme following independent advice obtained by Council and following a further public consultation process.”

The fundamental question is how is HBRC going to inform its promised “independent” judgment, with all the knowledgeable regional council staff working for Newman?

I and many others are quite eager to hear how and from whom HBRC will obtain its “independent advice”. This is especially critical with respect to the financial and economic assumptions underlying the dam proposal. And this is precisely what has concerned the mayors, who have offered to pay for an independent risk assessment.

Mrs Lambert needs to share her views with the public on how she intends to secure “independent advice”, sooner rather than later. The economic risks inherent in this project have been carefully sheltered from the public … and specifically we ratepayers who are on the books — so far — for $80 million of the project’s cost.

From there, she can move on to explaining what kind of public consultation she has in mind. How about a public referendum after the Board of Inquiry reports in next year, Mrs Lambert? It’s only the biggest public investment in Hawke’s Bay history, after all.

Finally, I’ll note that the HBRC media release says Mrs Lambert will be “taking over all responsibilities of the CEO except employment contracts for management staff.” Andrew Newman will still hold that responsibility. And by reputation, he’s a boss you don’t cross.

Sorry, as these matters are considered, somehow I just can’t get this Tui sign out of my mind:

“Newman no longer involved in Regional Council decisions … yeah right!”

Tom Belford

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7 Comments

  1. Gosh Tom, this is all so confusing – I only have the tiny mind of a ratepayer (you will know ratepayers have tiny minds and cannot think for themselves). Are you saying we should be worried? Are you serious that Andrew Newman , appointed CE of the Regional Council can now take himself off to be the Managing Director of its Investment Company and diverse himself of the responsibilities for which he was appointed?
    Please tell me I haven’t lost the plot!

  2. FYI – A copy of an email I’ve sent to every councillor today. I wonder what the responce will be? I wait with baited breth.

    If Andrew Newman is still responsible for “employment contracts for management staff” how can Liz Lambert, or senior staff advising HBRC, be truly independent from Andrew Newman?

    I’m sorry Fenton but this shuffle is a sham. You tell me how it “resolves the perception of conflict of interest” to quote HB Today because from where I sit it still smells like rotten fish.

  3. Well that’s the veneer gone.

    How about giving the region a bit of faith in our regional council again and doing this properly.

    Remove Andrew Newman’s control over whether HBRC management and staff can give their independent, expert opinion on the risks and benefits of this project and keep their job.

    Surely if the numbers and science stand on their own merits, as he says they do, he has nothing to fear.

  4. of course in order to give their (expert) views in confidence without fear of repercussions, the staff first have to be funded to do a proper and comprehensive analysis of the relevant issues. as far as I can tell, several bits of the puzzle are (assumed deliberately) not being examined. which makes the officers’ positions on this even more untenable; they face being shot for holes in the data when those holes are not being addressed.

  5. Congratulations Tom, on raising this issue. It has become a real exercise in semantics in addition to all the other concerns. According to the HB Today (Sat June 29, page A7) the Hawkes Bay Regional Council Investment Company (under Managing Director Andrew Newman) will provide “expert advice around all the issues with the water storage scheme”. Still no mention of who will provide the “independent” advice service.

    Fenton Wilson’s contention that Andrew Newman “has ample experience and qualifications to fill the role of MD or CEO” is an expression of loyalty, but begs the question of just what experience and qualifications are needed to run a Port and a major Dam construction project?

  6. Thanks Tom for your telling it like it is true journalism. The facts! No different than when NCC had their, now dismantled, Local Authority Enterprises(LATEs), with pet directors – doing exactly as they liked without even having to consult with councillors.

    With over 5 million dollars of public monies spent already on the proposed dam – and absolutely nothing in concrete to show for it! Clearly, demonstrates to me how just how far the vast majority of Bay peoples walk around with heads firmly stuck up their …

    Unfortunately for us, apathy is alive and well in the Bay.

    Only hope, this latest damn, dam debacle stirs voters into action come election day!

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