This past Wednesday, I voted against committing $80 million of ratepayer funds to the Ruataniwha dam scheme.
During the debate, which can be viewed online here, pressure from the four dam skeptics — myself and Councillors Barker, Beaven and Graham — succeeded in ensuring that final approval of the dam, contingent upon several conditions the project is far from satisfying, would come back before the Regional Council by 30 September for another vote.
Consequently, your elected Councillors will still need to give final approval to the scheme, considering all of its aspects.
The requirements still to be met include unconditional sales contracts for 40 million cubic metres of irrigation water, a satisfactory investor/financing package, a firm construction contract that caps HBRC liability, and a workable set of environmental mitigation conditions.
Since not one of these conditions was satisfied on Wednesday, in my view it was premature — in fact, irresponsible — to be voting at that time on any ratepayer investment in the project.
Thursday, the Board of Inquiry released its final decision on management of the Tukituki catchment and the dam. That decision will take some time to comprehend, but I expect to offer some initial assessment over the weekend.
Meantime, here are the comments I made at the conclusion of Council debate …
Statement on HBRC Investment Decision
The process we are following to make this investment decision is indefensibly defective.
In the overview of her report on the Kaipara Council’s mismanagement of its $63 million wastewater scheme, the Auditor-General wrote:
“This report highlights lessons about governance – such as the need for members of a governing body to have the courage to keep asking questions until they understand what they are deciding…”
As Councillors we still await detailed information on critical contractual and financial assumptions. The only financial briefing from HBRIC to Councillors was verbal and presented in a workshop … a practice also criticised by the A-G.
As Councillors we have not been permitted to engage with the supposedly independent consultant, Deloitte, selected to advise us on the viability of the project, despite the fact that it is we Councillors, not the staff, their insights are intended to satisfy. As we sit here today Deloitte concedes that it cannot actually give a final assessment of the project’s viability.
Meanwhile, total mystery prevails around the readiness of farmers to actually back their rhetoric with their dollars, and around the conditions and escape clauses they are being offered to do so.
Most foolishly, we are asked to authorize an investment today that might be rendered entirely moot by the BOI within 48 hours, given HBRIC’s interpretation, or further challenged in court.
And regarding the BOI, as much as senior leaders of this Council and HBRIC attempt to paper over the fact, the draft decision of the BOI to reject the environmental mitigation scheme proffered by HBRC is a blow to the credibility of the scheme team. If they got it wrong on the Plan Change, where else have they got it wrong – on the ability of the dam to supply sufficient water in dry years, in the projected increases in farm productivity in an area with serious limiting factors other than water, on the claimed jobs and downstream economic benefits?
Critical as they are, my lingering concerns in these areas are trumped by the deficiencies in our decision-making readiness, as I’ve outlined.
From the Kaipara report: “There is a tendency to discount such points as bureaucratic, but they are fundamental to an effective and trusted public sector. In several reports recently, we have emphasised that, in the public sector, decisions have to not only be right but also be seen to be right. The process for decisions also matters, because the use of public money and power has to be clearly and properly authorised.”
The process this Council is following makes it impossible for me today to properly meet my fiduciary responsibilities to the ratepayers of Hawke’s Bay and to their environment. And I am not prepared to hand those responsibilities over to HBRIC, anointing them to judge whether requisite conditions are satisfied, which is the recommended proposal.
This investment is not ripe for a vote, even a symbolic one that would suggest that a compelling case has been made, which is where the amended language leaves us today.
Consequently I have only one option and that is to vote against the proposed Regional Council investment in the Ruataniwha scheme.