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Monday, 7 July 2008

AUCKLAND'S SHONKY ACCOUNTING

Waiheke should have ready access to the council's income and expenditure figures for the island. That would be the open and transparent democratic accountability demanded by the Local Government Act 2002. Our community board should be supplied with those figures, month by month, year by year, as a matter of course, otherwise it cannot fulfil its legal obligation to maintain an overview of council services here or prepare a meaningful annual submission for expenditure.

But the figures are not supplied, and getting them is difficult and time-consuming. You cannot, even if you are a member of the community board, just telephone or send an email. You have to prise them out of The Machine using the Local Government Official Information & Meetings Act (LGOIMA--pronounced 'ligoymah'). But even under force of law Auckland doesn't jump to attention. You are unlikely to get what you ask for within the 20 working days laid down in the law, and then you will probably have to ask for detail. So you go round the wearisome loop several times to get what you should have got in nothing flat, and even then the figures have to be regarded with deep suspicion. The reason is obvious: Auckland does not do good accounting.

I recently asked, under LGOIMA of course for figures that included the 2007/2008 cost of running the council's service centre on the island. All I got was a lump sum for 'overhead,' a lump so large that it was unbelievable: $7,475,489! I asked, again under LGOIMA, for detail, only to be told 'Auckland City does not manage its business or record costs on a geographical area, island or ward basis'; all they do is 'apportion' 'a share to the island of expenditures.'

When Gulf News put itself through the LGOIMA grinder last year, Auckland finally admitted the cost of running our service centre, saying it was $1.658 million in 2006/2007 (up from $1.601 million the year before), so we can assume that in 2007/2008 it was really about $1.7 million. Then they also gave our allocation in 2006/2007 for 'city governance and operations' as $2.443 million and our allocation for isthmus roading and transport as $0.614 million, which made the total enforced contribution to the isthmus of $3.057 (aren't we kind?). That plus the $1.658 million for the service centre made a total for the island's administrative overheads of $4.715 million in 2006/2007.

Now, suddenly, in 2007/2008 that has soared to $7,474,489. I believe it. I do, I do, I do. Would Auckland put me wrong? I also believe in the tooth-fairy, little green men on the moon, Robert Mugabe's halo, and Auckland's valuation of my property.

Where there is not good accounting there cannot be good management. Where is there is not good management there cannot be good local government. Auckland's accounting, management and government are so much wastewater.

Thames-Coromandel District Council, in marked contrast, readily gives comprehensive information. It has a clear, detailed annual report; it provides data to its community boards, which do the budgets for their wards, even setting local rates; and anything not published or provided as a matter of course is speedily available on a phone-call or an email. There is no need to use the heavy weaponry of LGOIMA. TCDC can give the information because it collects it. And even if you ask it for something out of the ordinary, something it does not need to collect, its staff will get it for you--evens within the hour.

If we were under TCDC our contribution to the common administration would be no more than $1.8 million--considerably less than the $7,474,489 'allocated' us by Auckland, or even the far more trustworthy $3.057 million that they finally admitted to under pressure last year. That would give us another $1.2 million to play with, and we could easily make savings of 10% on Auckland's profligate expenditure, which would give us at least another $1.7 million. We would therefore have about $3 million more available, on those two savings alone.