As councillors get into gear for the coming year, it’s clear that secrecy will be the preferred modus operandi of the HB Regional Council.

At our first meeting on 29 January, the precedent has already been set.

At that meeting, we deliberated two agenda items in ‘public-excluded’ session.

The outcome of the first item has now been announced to the public. In that matter, we commissioned two independent reports that will be critical to evaluating the financial and economic viability of the proposed dam. One study, to be completed by Deloitte, will examine the financial/economic case for the dam and the risks involved in a HBRC (i.e., ratepayer) investment (if any) of $80 million in it. A second study, to be completed by Nimmo-Bell, will identify and evaluate alternative investments of scale that could be made to advance the strategic goals of the Regional Council.

There is absolutely no reason why the terms of reference for these studies could not have been released to the public in advance, and councillors’ interrogation of the candidate firms be witnessed. Indeed, public observation of the process would have been reassuring to skeptics of the proposed scheme. Financial terms and councillors’ deliberations over the candidates could have readily been kept private.

I’m comfortable with the assignments that have been awarded. However, I am not comfortable with the extremely short window the consultants have been given — essentially one month — to complete their assignments. This is just another example of the groundless determination of HBRC/HBRIC to hurry, hurry, hurry. Here’s where ‘hurry’ takes you …

Even the Board of Inquiry has asked for additional time to complete its deliberations … and that time has been granted. If the BOI needs more time after seven months to do its job well, surely so do these consultants need more than four weeks.

The second item considered in public excluded was publicly titled: “HBRIC Ltd Staff Remuneration Request”.

I can say nothing about the content of that item at this time. However, a number of councillors, myself included, are challenging the Council’s handling of the matter. We will fight to make public the decision taken, its documentation, and the votes cast. Watch this space.

The penchant for secrecy didn’t end there on the 29th.

Once the public excluded portion of the meeting was declared ended, thereby ending the official Council meeting (of course with media and the public long since gone), Chairman Fenton Wilson offered councillors the ‘opportunity’ to receive an update briefing on the dam from HBRIC Chairman Andy Pearce, who had been on hand for the second public excluded agenda item, and was still present.

Pearce began a presentation, but it was quickly noted that the ground rules were murky as to whether this briefing was to be considered public or confidential. Indeed, what was the official status of the ‘meeting’ at that point?

You’ll recall that Councillors Barker, Beaven, Graham and myself have been asking for a full public de-brief on the scheme ever since we were elected … a request that was re-issued days before the 29 January meeting and to which Chairman Pearce acceded. But, we were told, the briefing couldn’t be accommodated on that day.

After a bit of posturing by various councillors, it became clear that I was the party regarded with suspicion. [Councillor Barker had left immediately at the close of the official meeting to catch a plane.] The question on the table: If other councillors wished to proceed with an informal confidential briefing, would I pledge to report nothing of it?

I declined to participate in a rump private meeting. I gave my view that it’s past time for the public to have a wide-open look at the total scheme, with all its aspects and assumptions on the table. It’s time to take off the veil.

So I left the ‘meeting’ — or whatever it was — and the briefing commenced.

For me, the principle of transparency is paramount. I made that as clear as I possibly could during my election campaign and voters responded positively.

My intention is to press the HBRC towards transparency — the only basis of public accountability — at every opportunity. I intend to press the boundaries … vigorously. Anything less and I would be failing to keep faith with my constituency.

Tom Belford

Join the Conversation

11 Comments

  1. Tom – you give me hope the HBRC process can become transparent. Hopefully all boxes for the engineering and finances on RWSS get a tick. However, evidence presented to the BOI acknowledge the dam will impede the movement of gravel from the Ruahines. Also the dam will reduce flood flows vital for transporting sand and gravel to the coast via the Tukituki. The health of Clive and Napier’s coast is totally dependent on material making it to the river mouth. The stability of all beaches between Clive and Tangoio is at stake if traditional gravel supplies are interfered with. The BOI passed over my submission because I did not produce independent expert evidence. Mark my concerns to bring up in say 20 years.

  2. Much of the opposition to the proposed Ruataniwha dam and other activities of the HB Regional Council is about the (lack of) “transparency” of their processes.
    So what do they do? They hold closed, public-excluded meetings ! How dumb is that.

  3. Re this Dam…they say it is Ear marked to cost $265,000,000.00 [million] I just put that figure into my calculator @ 4% interest and it shows me $10,600.000.00 just how much is this thing going to lose per year, and who is going to bear those losses? Is the HBRC hoping that a complete bunch of Dumb Bunnies are going to invest in it!!??
    Or am I on the wrong track here??

  4. Thanks Tom for holding to your pre-election promises….. keep up the good work – challenging though it is!

    As a Napier resident, can I ask where our Napier elected councillors stand on their promises of transparency? It would be most helpful to see how they voted on this and other matters…

    How disappointing to see that the small majority (by one vote) of councillors still don’t ‘get’ that we are not at war!
    A bit of brain power might have recognised an opportunity to at least appear inclusive, by encouraging public observation of the process involved in considering tenders for peer review of the dam project. Whew! Too risky?

    Unfortunately, it seems the one vote majority is more about power than brain!

  5. Thanks Tom, It would be good to see the push to transparency widened to accommodate all local govt in Hawkes Bay. Too often are the curtains pulled under the guise of commercially sensitive information or whatever in order to promote vested interests and pet projects largely at the expenses of public good.

  6. Tony, see the Talking Point column in today’s HBT.
    Despite all the facts pointing to an unmitigated financial disaster the NCC roared ahead with their ” pet project “.
    Would you believe it, the nearly 700,000 paying visitors were based on the public using the toilets, taking a short cut through the building, buying an ice cream at the lolly shop and attending the century theatre.
    The true number of paying visitors will amount to only 10% of those budgeted for !
    This will directly affect, not only NCC ratepayers but also those in the HDC area.
    But that was never a concern to the latter day Warren Buffett’s who could not care less about others peoples money.
    They were only concerned about building a memorial to their own financial stupidity.
    Now we have the unseemly sight of the current mayor trying unsuccessfully to blame it all on the previous mayor.
    As Chair of finance he was made fully aware of this disaster by both myself and other submitters in written and verbal submissions made at the time.
    I predict the result will be continuing losses [ after ALL expenses ] at twice the level of the losses at the aquarium and the dud buses i.e. $1,000,000 per annum.
    Don’t smirk in Hastings, because you too will be responsible for this on-going annual bill as well.

  7. Talk about us ratepayers being in the crap! It’s not only the ratepayer subsidised- down the gurgler Art Deco buses with their “phantom passengers”! Along with the all new ratepayer subsidised 20 million dollar (MTG) Non patronage debacle -along with there being 40% less storage space!
    For the yet to be completed land based sewage plant at Awatoto now looks- set to cost us ratepayers yet more again, after Alexander Construction Ltd, for whatever reason? up sticks and abandoned site? Hopefully Alexander Construction Ltd Managing Director, Napier City Councillor Mr Mark Hamilton can explain all! All this blundering mismanagement when ( former sharebroker) Mayor Dalton was Napier City Council’s “Chairman” of Corporate Finance Committee! It would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious! Mayor Barbara sure knew when to jump ship.

  8. Hi Tom,
    It’s disappointing that you can’t get the terms of reference for the financial and economic case study but that doesn’t stop you from stating now to HBRIC, Nimmo-Bell and Deloitte what the minimum acceptable content would include. You can safely assume that unsupportable/false information regarding water availability, dam and infrastructure cost and construction timescale will have been provided by HBRC and HBRIC to the consultants. This will heavily skew the figures in favour of the project.
    Please write a letter to the consultants, copied to HBRIC and the public, insisting that for the report to meet the standards expected for a ‘project of National Significance’ we need the analysis to include sensitivities around 5.5 cumecs (true) vs 6.9 cumecs (HBRC fantasy) of water available, 17,000 ha (true) vs 25,000 ha (HBRC) of irrigable area, Dam construction period 5 years (true) vs 3 years (Newman), Dam cost (publicly disclosed tender figure with all tags noted suitable for independent scrutiny) vs $265m (unsubstantiated guess by HBRC) , on-farm mitigation costs for pollution (required) vs no cost (HBRC assumption).
    All this to have sensitivity analysis around interest rates, exchange rates, long-run dairy gate prices, farm input cost escalation, climate change variation.

    If the report does not include financial viability scenarios using these alternative figures it is reasonable to reject it, or call for another one along the lines of your original request. The way it is being handled now is decidedly smelly. There is a word for it, and it starts with C.

    There are several other items in addition to this list that would be done if the money being spent was personal not rates, tax and investor money (OPM, other people’s money). The guys doing the deal have no skin in the game.

  9. Thankyou Tom for trying to do the ethically right thing;
    too much of this behind closed doors stuff for a Public Body can only lead to corruption in the long run, so nip it in the bud before it happens!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *