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Thursday, 28 May 2009

FOUR MUST-HAVES FOR EFFECTIVE REORGANISATION

The Local Government Minister has breached the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA2002) in the way he is trying to reorganise Auckland's local government, but we are obviously stuck with his evasion of the legal, democratic process that is meant to be handled by an independent statutory body, the Local Government Commissions, so we have to try to get the government to get it right from here on.

No reorganisation will succeed unless everything done fits the purpose of the organisation. If you do not get the why right, you will never get the what, the when, the who, the how or anything else right.

Usually in troubleshooting you have to identify the purpose before you can start fixing the mess, but in local government the purpose is already neatly printed in section 10 of the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA2002): 'The purpose of local government is--(a) to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities; and (b) to promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities, in the present and for the future.' Then section 14 lays down the principles. Anyone in local government, elected or employed, who does not know the forty words of s10 should be sacked.

'Enable democratic local decision-making and action and promote the four well-beings.' If the government does not do that, all it will achieve is a change in logos and letterheads and bureaucratic titles.

There are four things that must be done, not just for this part of the country, but for all New Zealand. The four headings are Teeth, Time, Delegations and Budgets.

Teeth. First, there must be summary penalties in the LGA2002 for those who breach it. Then any errant bureaucrat or councillor or member of a community/local board can be summarily prosecuted and either fined or in serious cases spend a few months in jail. At the moment the only penalty, which is rather restricted, is a fine of up to $5000. But if you pirate a DVD you can be fined tens of thousands. Obviously New Zealand thinks local government is far less important than a DVD.

Second, community/local boards, on behalf of their communities, must have the power to vet all staff employed in their local service centre, and all staff employed in the central office who have their community as their responsibility. We must know that we are getting suitable people, and not have the choices of senior bureaucrats foisted on us. Then, if approved, people would be hired on three months probation. Boards must also have the power to summon errant staff before them, those who have acted in breach of the law, in particular the LGA2002 and the RMA, and if necessary sack them.

Only then will the people have the upper hand, not those who work for them and are paid by them. Public servants must be public servants, never public masters.

Time. Members of community/local boards must have the time needed to do the job they were elected to do, and want to do. But they have to breathe and eat. They cannot spend the necessary time if they do not have the remuneration. But because the Remuneration Authority is corrupt, because it ignores the mandatory criteria set down in Clause 7 Schedule 7 of the LGA2002, and has instead invented its own insane rules, elected people in local government in New Zealand, in particular community boards, are not paid enough to carry out their duties. Being a member of a community/local board is a full-time job. Therefore they should be paid $30,000 a year. Not an average of less than $5000. Councillors, too, must be paid fairly, so that we do not get the ludricrous situation of Auckland Regional Councillors being the lowest-paid regional councillors in New Zealand ($22,000 a year).

That means that some the teeth needed in the LGA2002 must be aimed at the Remuneration Authority. If it does not follow the law it must be sacked, and face a penalty in court. To kneecap local government in an entire country is a very serious offence, and should be dealt with very severely.

Delegations. The powers and activities delegated to community/local boards must not be in the hands of politicians, either councillors or MPs. They must be in the hands of an independent statutory authority--the Local Government Commission. Then boards, on behalf of their communities, and with their consultation and support, would apply to the LGC for a list of desired delegations. What the LGC approved would be gazetted under the LGA2002, and no councillor or bureaucrat would be able to intefere with anything on it. Any who did would be liable to summary prosecution.

Only by having protected delegations can community/boards operate; only then can democratic local decision-making be protected. Honest councils give and do protect good delegations, but a protected system is needed as a bulwark against dishonest ones--such as Auckland City Council.

Budgets. Community/local boards must, on behalf of their communities, with consultation, have control over local income and expenditure. They must have full responsibility for the local budget, and they must develop the local rates, which would then be signed off by their council. Good councils, such as Thames-Coromandel District Council, already do that, but it should be a mandatory duty.

Teeth, Time/Remuneration, Protected Delegations, Budgetary Control. Unless those matters are under LOCAL control through community/local boards, there will never be good local government in New Zealand.