Thursday, September 27, 2012

A conflicted dictatorship

One of the tools of the Canterbury dictatorship in giving away water to farmers are the "zone committees". These unelected bodies are responsible for recommending nutrient and minimum flow limits for particular waterways. But there's a problem: they're completely riven with conflicts of interest:

outgoing North Canterbury Fish & Game officer Tony Hawker was concerned some zone committee members either held irrigation consents or interests in irrigation development - and did not have to declare them.


A cursory search by the Herald revealed that on the Upper Waitaki committee, chairman Barry Shepherd was involved in the Benmore Irrigation Company, while Simon Cameron is a shareholder in the Mackenzie Irrigation Company.

In the Lower Waitaki committee, Matthew Ross is a board member of Irrigation New Zealand, while member Robin Murphy also chairs the Morven Glenavy Ikawai Irrigation Company. Many other committees also featured members with irrigation interests.

"Technically, if these committees had to declare their conflicts of interest, they would never reach a quorum to hold a meeting," Mr Hawker said. "ECan seem to place quite a strong emphasis on the work of the committees to set limits in plans rather than the science presented from their own staff," he said.

Astoundingly, ECan is happy with this situation. They shouldn't be. Quite apart from being a fundamental ethical breach, these conflicts of interest expose ECan to litigation on basic administrative law grounds - bias - and allow the decisions of the zone committees to be overturned. Which is exactly what the new, "efficient" ECan was supposed to avoid.

But I suppose that rather than avoiding that problem by removing these members and appointing unconflicted ones, they'll simply get National to pass a law saying that such conflicts are OK and cannot be challenged in court. That is, after all, how this government operates: removing fundamental rights to support thieves and steal from the rest of us.