Friday, March 05, 2010

Local government and peuniary interests

In 2005, in response to bill by Michael Cullen, Parliament amended its standing orders to require MPs to declare their financial interests. From 2006, we've known what companies our MPs own shares in, where they own property, who (if anyone) they are also employed by, and who pays for their overseas travel. The result of this transparency has been greater trust in politicians - we can see that they are not corrupt.

Sadly, the same does not apply at local government level. Oh, the Local Authorities (Members' Interests) Act 1968 bars local authority members from significant contracts with the authority they sit on, and it requires them not to discuss or vote on questions in which they have a pecuniary interest - but as we've seen with ECan, these provisions are rarely invoked, and the large number of property developers on city councils suggests they are completely ineffective. Some councils, such as Manukau City Council, have followed parliament's lead, and amended their code of conduct [PDF] to require disclosure. But its the exception, rather than the rule.

Which brings us to the Gore District Council. GDC has recently tried to adopt a similar provision, requiring councillors to declare their interests in companies, property, and employers within the district. But despite amending their code of conduct [PDF]. one of their councillors is shamefully refusing to disclose. Apparently, he thinks his right to privacy trumps our right to honest government.

The GDC is now seeking guidance from the Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner on disclosure rules, but they shouldn't have to. Instead, transparency should be legislated for by parliament. We already have a good model, in Parliament's Standing Orders. All we need to do is legislate to apply to it councils.

Member's bill, anyone?