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.