Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mackenzie District votes to hide corruption

One of the basic assumptions of our democracy is that elected representatives will not be corrupt. They will represent their voters, rather than themselves, and they will not line their own pockets at the public’s expense. One of the ways we enforce this is by requiring Members of Parliament to declare their pecuniary interests.

Unfortunately the same does not apply to local government. There is no blanket requirement for local body representatives to declare their interests. Some councils (e.g. the pre-SuperCity Manukau Council) do. Others don't. And the Mackenzie District Council has just joined the latter, with newly elected councillors voting down a proposed interest register:

At yesterday's meeting, the council voted against the proposal by four to two. Councillors Peter Maxwell and Annette Money voted in favour, while councillors John Bishop, Evan Williams and deputy mayor Graham Smith voted against it.

Mayor Claire Barlow did not have a casting vote but expressed a preference in favour of a members' interest, as it was good practice, and she was in favour of openness.

(The other councillor to vote against was Graeme Page)

Let's be clear: interest registers are a vital means of ensuring public confidence in our democracy. They allow is to see that our representatives are not corrupt. Anyone voting against one is voting for corruption. And we should not accept that from any elected representative. The councillors who voted down this proposal should be hounded from office, and replaced with representatives who are willing to show they are clean.

Meanwhile, this simply reinforces the need for legislation on the issue. Local councils have shown they will not act to ensure transparency and integrity. So Parliament will have to do it instead.