Since writing my Murky Waters post on Sunday about the modus operandi of the Regional Council and its holding company, HBRIC, I’ve had numerous inquiries … mostly incredulous.

The gist of the questions … “Who’s in charge there, anyway?”

Most people have the quaint notion that their elected representatives, Councillors, are supposed to be in charge.

So they naively assume that if a Councillor asks for a piece of official information — for instance, a boilerplate Water Users Agreement, the financial linchpin of the proposed dam scheme — the response should be automatic and straightforward … staff should provide that information forthwith.

Or, if HBRIC decides to file a resource consent for 15 million cubic metres of aquifer water, elected Councillors should not find out about it two months later, from outside sources.

So the questioners press on … “Who exactly makes the decisions to say NO to information requests from elected Councillors?” [Or at least from certain Councillors.]

Here’s my impression.

If the information is held by HBRIC, access to it is denied by HBRIC chief executive Andrew Newman and/or chairman Andy Pearce. Presumably with acquiescence of other HBRIC directors.

Actually, it’s not considered kosher for mere elected Councillors to request information directly from HBRIC.

We are expected to make such requests through our Regional Council chairman, Fenton Wilson, and/or interim chief executive Liz Lambert. Either one might or might not accede to, endorse or pursue the request. A case in point would be Councillor Graham’s official request to chairman Wilson, weeks ago (on behalf of himself and Councillors Barker, Beaven and Belford), for various pieces of financial information regarding the dam. To date, no reply … no information … not even a polite rejection of the request.

The requests just seem to disappear into a silent black void. Moreover, as Councillor Barker often comments, then there’s what we don’t know, and therefore cannot ask about!

This doesn’t seem to concern HBRIC directors, just as it doesn’t concern the five Councillors who appear to have no probing questions about the viability of the dam scheme.

However, the business people I talk to in the community are quite alarmed. They (like the HBRIC directors) serve or have served as corporate directors and tend to project that sector’s sense of “Who’s in charge?” into the governmental realm. In their world, a director has an absolute right to any information they request of management. And indeed directors are legally culpable if things go awry and they haven’t been diligent in seeking and acting upon the relevant information.

Applying that principle to the Council scenario, they see Councillors as akin to directors … with a right and duty to pursue and receive relevant information for their decision-making. And they find it incredible that ‘management’ denies such information to Councillors.

But folks, that’s the way it goes in the regime of Pearce, Newman, Wilson and Lambert.

When it comes to anything related to the dam, there’s no question who is charge. And it ain’t us ‘rank and file’ Councillors.

As former Councillor Bill Sutton writes:

“So far as I can judge from outside, HBRIC is now effectively running the Council, rather than the other way round. Yet the HBRIC members are not elected, and not directly accountable to ratepayers. Why is this travesty being allowed to continue?”

Fair question, Bill. Put it to your Napier representatives on the Regional Council.

Tom Belford

Join the Conversation


  1. And these people have their snout in an $80 million (ratepayer) trough. Perhaps this is why other potential investors have walked away. There could be high risk associated with such a cavalier attitude towards responsibility by some on the HBRIC. Investors may fear malpractice will see their money locked down during some endless process of litigation. Is it time for a statutory manager to oversee this process? A commissioner perhaps? I would also recommend the inappropriately named ‘rebel councillors’ start looking for some other community minded and responsible people to join them and stand as candidates at all future council elections. This old school style of local council pork barrel politics needs to stop. Some councillors really should step down and the sooner the better. The days of smoke filled backroom deals hidden from public scrutiny is not acceptable.

  2. Keep up the good work Tom.

    This whole business is a great example of why fully owned Council enterprises should not be allowed to exist.

    Have you investigated whether it is possible to use the court system to force an answer from the HBRC chairman?

  3. Kiaora Kia kaha (stay strong) Tom.

    Reading Laurie’s comment “Have you investigated whether it is possible to use the court system to force an answer from the HBRC chairman”?

    I was just wondering if the Auditor-General Lyn Provost replied to ChenPalmer ON BEHALF OF Transparent Hawke’s Bay a Request To Conduct A Performance Audit Under The Public Audit Act 2001 on Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s (“HBRC”) compliance with its statutory consultation obligations in relation to HBRC’s proposed Ruataniwha Water Storage Project (“RWSP”)?

    By the above comments and your article obviously there are still many #humantaniwha lurking beneath those murky waters, only allowing those of the same ilk in for a swim in their Bovine Shitty awa.

    Stay cool :)

  4. Bill Sutton is 100% correct.
    Vladimir Putin would be thrilled at the way Fenton Wilson and his sycophantic cronies are running the HBRC and the HBRIC.
    I understand from CIA sources that Fenton will be the recipient of the Red Star, Russia’s highest honour, for running a successful dictatorship in sleepy Hawke’s Bay.
    Meanwhile the Fab Four should seek independent legal advise and petition for a commissioner to be appointed ASAP to protect the ratepayers interest.
    The performance of Fenton’s sycophantic councillors is risible and the stuff of legend among other local authorities.

  5. You have clearly identified the shortcomings of the HBRIC and of the HBRC executives, Tom, over a long period of time and I commend you for having the guts to speak-up.
    If as I imagine, the remedy to the shortcomings of our elected council is a legal challenge, where do you suggest we as a collective (Concerned ratepayers) go to find accountability from our elected officials. Surely there are standards of governance that now need to be applied via the courts? I would be prepared as an individual to donate a small amount to a trust fund that would finance a legal action to seek accountability for the HBRC management of the Dam project. Maybe others would donate?

  6. I have been talking to a number of farmers recently and all of them feel the Regional Council is not performing adequately…….except the fab four.

    FentonWilson needs replacement immediately!

    One issue that comes up in all these farmers concerns is that they cannot afford to use their irrigation bores because council costs are in excess of any increased income they can get from irrigation…so they are getting the council to cap and lock them!

    This is typical of the council thinking farmers have a reserve of money they don’t have and a cash flow they don’t have!

    This is their attitude of ‘we will take your money at any cost’ despite the effect it is having on our local economy!

    The problem with non-elected-members of the Regional Council is that they don’t have knowledge of the practicality of running a business and so the whole of the Hawkes Bay economy is suffering from this ignorance!

    What can we do to get some rational economic sense into these people; under the current structure it seems impossible!

  7. Bill Sutton & JJH have expressed my opinion. It would seem to me that the HBRC & HBRIC have left themselves wide open to multiple legal challenges. It seems that 5 councillors have forgotton what the HBRC was set up to do. I think a couple are only there for the pay and not from some longstanding environmental advocacy or in fact any connection with environmentl issues.

  8. Dave, Bill and JJH, the problem is that no-one actually cares what the Regional Council does. At the last meeting there were TWO members of the public present in the afternoon. In the morning, the “block of five muppets” outvoted every attempt to bring commom sense, morals or ethics to bear on Council business. HBRIC presented a report indicating no progress until Dec 30th, indicated that they would be asking for more ratepayers’ money to help fund their pitiful performance, and not one councillor indicated that with 10 million dollars down the drain already, it was time to put the plug in and stop any further wastage. What is wrong with the people of Hawkes Bay, that they are quite happy to see their rates wasted.

  9. Ian

    You and I know New Zealand is made up of some very hardworking people, a middle ground of cruises, a bottom end of layabouts and parasites; unfortunately the local government (and central government) of New Zealand has too many of the latter category.

    It has been socially unacceptable in New Zealand to raise ones head about the parapet and say ‘ hey guys’ this isn’t kosha!

    That is where the apathy comes in; also the clique of decision makers have got things sown-up between themselves and this has been well known in Hawkes Bay for a very long time!

    The trouble is we are getting a hairdresser to do a brain surgeons job and the skills don’t match so we are left with very ignorant people making major decisions for us with terrible consequences.

    Plato said people must be trained for governance; if we train a monkey to do the job of local government officials we still have monkey at the end of the training process!

    So that is where we are at with the Dam proposal presently , people feel no matter what they do they do not have a say in the process in any meaningful way; hence the apathy!

  10. ‘Conflict debate heats up’ (HBToday, 1 August) is the latest attempt by Fenton Wilson to shut Tom up.

    But, either Fenton isn’t too bright, and doesn’t get that Plan Change 6 and the Ruataniwha dam aren’t the same thing, or he’s deviously confusing the situation.

    Because even if Tom is excluded from voting on the Plan Change – which he probably supports – he cannot be excluded form voting on issues relating to the dam. Under the RMA, consultation is required for Plan Changes, not resource consents (the dam) Tom submitted on the Plan Change and may be prejudiced, but where it counts; voting on dam issues HBRIC brings to Council, he has an unimpeachable right.

    My reading is that it’s Fenton, ably assisted by Christine Scott and Alan Dick, who are perpetrating the disfunction in HBRC, not Tom.

  11. Why keep bullying Tom, Fenton? WHY Not the former directors of the supposed H B R C Investment Company – the likes of Cr Dick & Co wouldn’t have a “conflict of interest” would they? Not much! Good on you for sticking to your guns (principals) Tom.

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