Is the Government Stacking the Deck on ECan Democracy?

Monday 9 August 2010, 1:05PM
By ECan In Exile


Of late the signs have not been looking good: yet again Forest & Bird have had to complain
that another of the vital water zone committees has been appointed but lacking sustainability & ecological expertise, ECan is Exile has its request for public release for individual payments to the government commissioners turned down and now questions have been raised about the government
ministers pre-editing the ECan commissioners professional reports prior to public release.

There is speculation that the common denominator in all of these matters is 'under the radar'
referral of key ECan decisions to government ministers offices before reports are released or
decisions made.

There are certainly worrying signs of concern within iwi circles around Canterbury that some reports of the Ngai Tahu ECan commissioner may have been subject to editing by the Local Government Ministers office. If this speculation has any basis in fact then this will be particularly galling given Minister Hides personal attitude to iwi representation at local government level and further could be seen as betrayal of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and the requirements on ECan under the Local Government Act to promote social and cultural community wellbeings.

Further, if this speculation is correct and the government is in fact interfering in professional reports from its commissioners, before they see the light of day, then Canterbrians will want to make it quite clear to Canterburys government MP's that any further erosion of regional democracy and possible stacking of the democratic deck will not be tolerated.

Thanks to this government Cantabrians already have no regional electoral democratic checks and balances on information from within ECan, we have seen Cantabrians legal right to be heard on democracy planning denied by their commissioners and so having professional reports and decisions pre-edited by Wellington will be an intolerable slap in the face for Cantabrians.

ECan in Exiles own experience with refrerral of decions to ministerial level was of abrogation of the principles of open government. ECan in Exile had requested official information on individual Commissioners expenses and payments, in line with current public interest in holding publicly funded bodies and executives to finacial account by the electorate.

While commissioner expense information was forthcoming we were told that commissioner
payments had been referred to the Ministers office, this despite the fact that, after the
Ecan councils replacement date, ECan paid the governments commissioners from its own internal budgets and so had access to the necessary information. In short we could see no valid reason why our request would need to be referred to the Minister.

Suspiciously, after the request had been at the Ministers office for 10 days ECan officers
replied saying they were witholding the information, they said, to protect the privacy of natural
persons (the commissioners), even though there was no problem previously finding out the salaries of the natural persons holding the office of ECan Chair, Councillors or CEO.

The current speculation and experiences will only serve to highlight the democracy issue at the local goverment elections coming up in October and at the parliamentry election due next year. Meanwhile, Cantabrians and citizens nationwide will be reflecting on who they can really trust with their democratic
rights and which politicians have shown themselves to be willing to 'walk the talk' by embracing truly open government.