DEMOCRACY UNDER ATTACK
Written by John Grant on March 15, 2022
Our reporter and owner of CFM John Grant, looks at the decision by Minister Mahuta to again delay Council elections in Tauranga.
The headline of “Democracy Under Attack” might seem a little dramatic, but then a number of things have happened of recent times that ring my alarm bells, none more so than Friday’s decision by the Minister of Local Government, Nanaia Mahuta, to postpone Tauranga City Council elections a further 2 years till mid 2024. My radar went into alert mode with the Three Waters reforms and the Covid-19 draft legislation that had provision to delay local body elections for up to 2 years. Both of these items have had plenty of public scrutiny and this resulted in the removal of the clause allowing local body election delays and three waters is still under review.
However back to Tauranga which we know is not on the Coromandel so why this story? Easy, if democracy is being challenged then regardless of locality, we must take notice. If this happens in Tauranga today, it could be Coromandel tomorrow.
Most expected the Ministerial appointed Commissioners to be replaced by elected Council at this year’s elections, Friday’s announcement changed that.
Last Friday, at an invitation only event at Tauranga City Council, Minister Mahuta announced her decision to delay local body elections and again appoint Commissioners for an extended period to provide governance to Tauranga City Council until July 2024 instead of resident and ratepayer elected councilors. The current Commissioners were appointed in February 2021 for what Minister Mahuta described then as “necessary to put Tauranga in a stronger position for the future.” She went on to add “The Council is facing substantial infrastructure and funding challenges that need to be addressed in its 2021-31 Long-term Plan. My decision to appoint four commissioners strikes the right balance between the significant decisions that need to be made and the important task ahead in rebuilding the relationship between the Council and the Tauranga community.
“In appointing these commissioners, I have carefully considered the right skills and experience to deliver the Long-term Plan, restore public confidence in the Council, recognise the strategic growth challenges, working with Iwi and develop a pathway to return the Council to an elected membership in October 2022.”
Friday’s announcement extends the period through to July 2024. The reasons given for this extension according to the media release;
- To ensure that the Council have the stability needed to maintain its current pace of change
- To deliver on several complex programmes of work, including plans for the new civic centre precinct and investment plans for future growth.
A democratic process allows residents and ratepayers to make decisions on who they want to direct the funding and focus at Council. To unilaterally take this away is a serious erosion of democratic rights and should be reserved for the most serious situations only.
Minister Mahuta is under fire for the planned Three Water reforms. Many of the decisions proposed for that reform have been criticised as taking away ownership and control of assets currently owned by resident and ratepayers.
Democracy and election period cycles go a long way in preventing or certainly limiting the risk of corruption and development of self-interest influencers. People appointed to such critical roles like Commissioners can lead to a perception of support for one area or sector over another. Having only 4 Commissioners in control of a Council decisions removes the checks and balances one has from a larger elected Council.
The reasons in support of a Minister appointing Commissioners needs to be strong enough to convince residents and ratepayers that the need for no elections is in the best interest of their city. It would be interesting to see if that view was now supported by those who have been disenfranchised for a further 2 years.