Monday, December 05, 2011

A conflict of interest

Horizons Regional Council has been in the news a lot recently over its regulatory role, with key staff resigning over an apparent shift in policy which has seen polluters go unprosecuted, and the council, against the advice of the Auditor-General, retaining political control over prosecutions. And now its in the news again, with plans to go into the dairy farming business:

Horizons Regional Council's decision to investigate buying a dairy farm has been met with disbelief by Green party leaders and environmentalists.

Horizons chairman Bruce Gordon said the council's investment company, Manawatu Wanganui Regional Council Holdings, had been looking at investment opportunities after it sold its Port of Napier shares to Hawke's Bay Regional Council for $9 million.

"If you look at the numbers over the past 15 years dairying is showing good returns," Mr Gordon said.

As the article points out, this is a pretty clear conflict of interest. One critic compares it to the police buying into a gang's drug business, and they're not far wrong. Horizons is the regulator, tasked with ensuring clean water for everyone living in its catchment. But its profits will depend on not performing that statutory role. For a council already under fire for lax and politicised enforcement, its not a good look at all. But its what happens when you get farmers running the show.