Monday, January 07, 2008

Time to clean up local body politics

The passage of the Electoral Finance Act has cleaned up parliamentary politics, ensuring that the rich can not buy elections or use anonymous or laundered donations to exercise undue influence in secret. But Parliamentary isn't the only place our democracy is under threat from the pernicious influence of money - many of the same tricks were used in the recent local body elections as well. For example, Palmerston North mayor Jono Naylor's $39,000 campaign to purchase the mayoralty (and "purchase" is the right word - he spent three times as much as his nearest rival, and more than double the amount spent by all other candidates combined) was funded almost entirely by a secret trust, the backers of which remain entirely anonymous (meaning that if they later demand a corrupt payback, the public will be none the wiser). Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast and Hamilton mayor Bob Simcock used a similar stunt, receiving $49,000 and $35,000 of anonymous and laundered funds respectively.

Given the capacity for corruption in local body politics - one planning decision by the council can make a property developer a fortune - this should alarm us all. It has certainly alarmed the government, and according to the Manawatu Standard ("Govt seeks review of secret gifts" - offline), they are planning a review of the law:

"It is very important that the public has confidence in the transparency of the local electoral process. [said Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta]

"In light of this, the Labour-led Government is committed to working with the Local Government Commission, which is reviewing aspects of the Local Electoral Act and the Local Government Act."

Hopefully this will result in an EFA-style transparency regime to bust the trusts and outlaw anonymous donations on the local level as well as the national one. Otherwise, we are simply inviting corruption in local government.