Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ports and transparency

In anticipation of a question: does what I said about Council-Controlled Organisations below mean we can use the OIA (technically LGOIMA) to oversee Ports of Auckland and find out e.g. how much its attempt at deunionisation has cost ratepayers, whether they have been leaking information to sewerbloggers, whether they are using private investigators to spy on protestors and striking workers, and how ratepayer's money much they have wasted on their advertising campaign (all questions I would love to know the answer to)? Sadly, no - because the definition of "Council-Controlled Organisation" in the Local Government Act specifically excludes port companies:

(4) The following entities are not council-controlled organisations: ...

(c) a port company or subsidiary of a port company within the meaning of the Port Companies Act 1988

Why is this the case? The provision seems to have originally been introduced into the Local Government Act 1974 by the Local Government Amendment Act (No 2) 1989 [PDF, large], which introduced new provisions about "Local Authority Trading Enterprises (LATES)", which specifically excluded port companies. The reason for that? Because the then-Labour government of Roger Douglas David Lange wanted local bodies to sell their ports. Again, privatisation was used to undermine the accountability of publicly-owned assets.

This is something that should be corrected. Again, the principle is simple: we own it, we should be able to see what its doing and how it is managing our money.

But beyond principle, there's also a strong pragmatic argument for treating ports like any other CCO. Firstly, most of them (e.g. Auckland, Wellington, Otago) are still wholly council-owned, meaning that the only effect of the provision is to reduce accountability over a publicly-owned asset. Secondly, councils have been managing part-owned companies subject to LGOIMA for two decades now, without any ill-effects. There just seems no reason to continue the exclusion. It should be repealed.