At the Regional Council’s last meeting in December, we received a progress report on the dam project from our holding company, HBRIC.

It reminded me of this Dilbert cartoon …

If there isn’t any progress, use a larger font!

It worked at HBRC in December. Sufficient Councillors responded with the ‘slow clap’.

The next meeting of HBRC is Wednesday.

We’re supposed to get a regular monthly update from HBRIC on its activities. Not on the agenda. Apparently we get one when they feel like it.

We were told (at the December meeting) to expect a report of significant progress over the coming month in getting farmers to sign water user agreements. As one HBRIC director noted … farmers do work over the holidays. No such report is on the agenda.

We were told (at the December meeting) that it would cost about $250,000 a month (excluding HBRIC CEO Andrew Newman’s salary) to continue the dam project after 31 March (when current funding ends). But HBRIC directors suggested that un-named other parties with an interest in the scheme would be recruited to, as they said, “share the pain”. No report on the Wednesday agenda on funding either.

As usual, HBRIC’s gone silent.

Before arriving on the Council I supported the creation of HBRIC, with the proviso that strong accountability provisions be incorporated into the relevant establishment and governing documents. That never happened.

And now, about 16 months into my elected term, I’ve found HBRIC to be consistently and fiercely resistant to genuine transparency and public accountability. I and some of my colleagues have scratched and clawed for the few scraps of information we have received about the dam project. On occasion we’ve received information only after it’s been shared elsewhere. We’ve been ‘granted’ private briefings with note-taking barred. Most discussions occur in workshops and public-excluded sessions.

Without accountability, what we now have is an HBRIC team preparing to ask us to throw good money after bad. A project that is twisting in the wind. A punch drunk HBRIC/HBRC team committed to an environmental ‘strategy’ for the Tukituki that has been knocked down twice, but still raring to go for another round.

Moreover, there’s not been the slightest hint that ‘oversight’ by HBRIC has added one iota of benefit to the governance of HBRIC’s one and only existing asset … Napier Port. HBRIC has added zero commercial acumen to an already capable Port Board. If anything, when serious problems arose last harvest season with Port logistics, HBRIC was imply an irrelevant layer interposed between Council and the Port team.

As presently envisioned, if the dam were to proceed, a separate company would be set up, like the Port, to run the scheme. And just like the Port, one further layer away from accountability. Even worse, if this dam company were to be infected with the same leadership and operational style as HBRIC, the public might as well forget about that company ever being called to account.

All that HBRIC has accomplished — both as supervisor of the Port Board and as manager of the dam project — is obfuscation. If HBRIC has any constituency in Hawke’s Bay outside its existing directors, a gaggle of Regional Councillors and its CEO, I’ve yet to discover them.

Yet on Wednesday Regional Councillors are being asked to approve a process for replacing the ‘transition board’ of HBRIC with a permanent board. In other words, a candidate selection process.

Based on what I’ve witnessed as a Councillor, I’m not inclined to endorse a candidate selection process. What we should be considering is the dis-establishment of HBRIC.

Of course, my view will be a minority view. So I guess I will need to console myself that maybe what is being approved Wednesday is actually a de-selection process.

Tom Belford

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7 Comments

  1. Actually Tom, the Councillors are once again being manipulated in regard to the composition of the HBRIC Board of Directors. In 2013 it was agreed that due to the perception of “conflict of interest’ over the Ruataniwha Dam issue, the HBRC Councillor members would stand down and an ‘interim’ board of independent directors be established until “Financial Close” was attained. The management started to backtrack on that at the 30 July 2014 meeting with resolution 14 about the composition and recruitment of a permanent HBRIC Board, containing 3 HBRC councillors. No date was set for the creation of the new board, although Staff were instructed to engage a consultancy to identify and assess Independent and Councillor directors and make recommendations od preferred directors to HBRC. Presumably that has been done so there is no need to repeat that part of the process.
    What is new is the setting of the date of 1 July 2015 for the creation of a permanent HBRIC board, irrespective of whether “Financial Close” has been achieved. Why the rush?

  2. I have been following the “dam” debate with increasing interest and horror. I know that we elected the HBRC board to speak for us (well, someone did anyway), but I am struck by the total arrogance and disregard for what the “people” really want as evidenced by the boards actions. It makes one feel like a dull child to whom too much honest information would only be confusing and upsetting. On ruminating on the dam proposal I have come up with a few questions.
    1. Do they actually have the authority to do what they are doing without the majority of the regions people in favour?
    2. What would happen in the event of an earthquake if the dam is indeed built? I’m thinking not only of the monetary losses, but also lives and farms that may be lost in the ensuing flooding.
    3. To my understanding I thought that water belonged to everyone. By building a dam and then charging for water dispersement, should that be what it’s about?
    4. I believe that the costs both monetary and in human terms is just not viable, and do we really want to leave this as a legacy for our children, grandchildren and into infinity? I, for one, do not.
    It’s easy to feel helpless and not rock the boat, but I really think that the HBRC needs a slap up the side of the head to bring them down to reality and what the people are really saying. ( It would probably only bring on more ringing in their ears, though, and only achieve less likelihood of being heard). Heather Scherger Ever hopeful in Hawke’s Bay

  3. Do we need the HB Regional Investment Company? Councillors and ratepayers don’t but the Directors and HBRC staff do. The company structure is the best way to manipulate in-house remunerations and control the release of performance information. Without such a structure you would have interfering Councillor governance and enquiring Ratepayers who feel an entitlement to accountability as the mere provider of funds. Seems we have to suck it up. It’s like betting on a sick horse at the TAB.

  4. In the time I have been “watching” HBRIC, Andrew Newman has received an $84 000 increase in pay and the Directors have also received a Fee increase. Both were said to be because of the complexity of the task(s) before them. How well have they actually performed? A poor response from farmer clients, no major investors have been identified, lost Court challenges with costs awarded to the Appellants, a need to sell more water to meet costs, not exactly a stellar performance.

  5. It has become very clear that inspite of the clear evidence that Ruataniwha dam is not a goer we have Rats in the HBRC and HBRIC, running around in disarray trying to save their lucrative salaries at the expense of us helpless rate payers….this scam has got to brought to end end ASAP.

    The continued backing of a dead horse is becoming tragic in the horrific financial loss being perpetrated by some very greedy misguided individuals who are not performing their duty of care that one should expect of people holding these positions of public responsibility.

    How as ratepayers can we stop this carry-on?

  6. This is how it works.
    John Key & crew want irrigation dams to be built. They see it as increasing the productive and export earning capacity of the economy. Any other concerns are a sideshow, to be obfuscated, ignored, & spin-doctored into oblivion.
    Each budget has been putting money away to support irrigation. Now the charade requires the appearance of political pressure:
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/agribusiness/65482711/irrigation-lobbyists-seek-easier-cash

    The people involved at HBRIC etc would not be carrying on making such fools of themselves unless they knew they had the support of a higher power. One with the power to override the usual checks & balances (Canterbury), and access to public money.
    Social welfare for farmers as being in the “National” good.

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