Last week BayBuzz broke the news that the Hastings Council (or was it the Hastings Sports Park Trust?) gave an un-tendered roading project to Higgins Contractors in exchange for a $500,000 donation to the sports park.

Let’s be crystal clear about this. Here’s what the staff briefing paper for the Hastings Council said: “Higgins Limited has indicated the sponsorship agreement is contingent on them being awarded the adjacent roading works at the same time as the internal works.” Adding: “The current contracting market is tight and the allocation of this quantum of works to a contractor without going through a competitive pricing process may cause concern within the local contracting industry.” Note that there’s no mention of possible ratepayer concern!

Later in the memo, and even more remarkably, the staff observes: “…the Council may be subject to some criticism from the contracting industry for removing a significant component of work in Council’s programme from the market. Counter to this is the argument that all contractors could have taken the initiative and approached the Regional Sports Park Trust with similar sponsorship proposals to that which Higgins is offering.” (italics added)

In other words: “What’s the matter with these other contractors, anyway … don’t they realise any of them would have been welcome to ‘entice’ the Council/Trust with a ‘donation’ offer?”

Higgins certainly seems to know how the insiders play. Quoting the DomPost, reporting the comments of Higgins’ chief executive: “While it was unusual for a donation and contract to seem to be tied up together ‘it’s not the first time it’s happened’.”

The briefing memo is in effect an open invitation – a flashing billboard – to would-be contractors and other aspiring vendors … LET’S MAKE A DEAL!

Indeed the Trust’s chief executive, Jock Mackintosh, perturbed by public criticism of the Higgins deal, remarked to the DomPost that “politicking” on the matter would “potentially damage funding” opportunities.

“Politicking”?!! Confronted with serious ethical concerns, if not auditor-challengeable Council malfeasance, the best the Trust executive can offer is: Hey, this bad publicity could screw up other deals like this we’re trying to make.

Meanwhile, the ever-vigilant HB Today gives one paragraph to the matter, then basically writes it off as petty politics, saying: “HBT understands the shots fired at Mr Yule could be from groups looking to discredit and and challenge [Mayor Yule] before ratepayers go to the voting booth on October 9.”

I have news for HB Today, concern runs far beyond some possible candidates. In a poll BayBuzz is currently running online (you can take it here), 83% of respondents say this transaction is wrong. You can read some of their choice comments here.

Which raises two simple questions for Mayor Yule and his cadre of “anything goes” Councillors:

1) Should we expect more deals like this – trading Council contracts for “donations” – as you attempt to raise funds for the sports park?

2) Do you intend to limit this practice to the sports park, or are all Hastings contracts open to “donations”?

It’s only fair that all would-be contractors and vendors (and ratepayers) know what the new groundrules are.

Tom Belford

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4 Comments

  1. I would be interested to know too, whether a "deal" was made or whether "mateship" was involved in the consent process for the environmentally suspect and shockingly inappropriate Waipatiki subdivision which thumbs its nose at the general public who have enjoyed that previously unspoiled environment for generations.

  2. This was a bribe.Pure and simple.However as long as other contractors are aware of the rules of the game no-one can have complaints.

    On a legal note;

    1) The public official or sportspark representative who discussed with Higgins contractors the $500,000 donation (!!!) if works were awarded is guilty of corruption.

    2) If Higgins knows it is going to get the contract it is not going to afford Hastings Council (the ratepayer) the best price.This is concerning because the person(s) involved could actually be costing Hawkes Bay alot of money.

    Who was the person who negotiated this deal?

  3. May I firstly congratulate all involved with Bay Buzz for bringing the usually dire dull local body political scene to life and in particular, for providing sound investigatory journalism around the issues! A most interesting read all round.

    Processes are put into place to avoid the 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' as appears to be demonstrated in the Higgins/Yule situation. To be frank, I am dismayed by a number of issues that this article raised: –

    1. Is there not a conflict in Mr Yule being Trust Chairman of the Regional Sports Park Trust and Mayor? Did he excuse himself from the in house Council session when the 'would be deal' was discussed?

    2. Why on earth did our Councillor's sanction the bypassing of processes which are based on natural justice principles of the (supposedly) even playing ground and Companies having the right to tender for work? This is a particularly bad look given the stress contractors are under with work scarcity bought on by recessionary pressures. It has long been suspected by the public that 'old boys networks' existed when it came time for who got what but the public want greater transparency, fairness and ethical practices. Again, this is exactly why processes are put in place.

    3. This 'apparent set up' will not pass mustard with your auditors and you will and should be held to account.

    4. Higgins will presumably be claiming this 'generous donation' back in large part through the tax system. Why the Company will potentially be laughing all the way to the bank!

    Come on Councillors – this is the 21st century. If what is reported is what has happened you forget your under greater scrutiny these days. If decisions have been made that can not now be afforded (Sports Parks) but for back handers for contracts, face the facts and address those issues but stay ethical and stick to process please!

  4. Come on Mr Snee.

    Answer all the questions please?

    What about the likes of Robinson and Hall giving us some answers?

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