Call in the au­di­tor-gen­eral?

Auckland City Harbour News - - OPINION -

See yourself as a share­holder in a gi­ant cor­po­rate with a staff of more than 10,000 who are paid more than $700 mil­lion a year from people like you.

The amount of money you’ve in­vested is vir­tu­ally all you’ve got and your an­nual in­come is a pit­tance com­pared to the to­tal the big pol­icy mak­ers draw.

You find it hard to imag­ine the cor­po­rate’s su­per plans with a price ticket to match and you’re un­likely to ben­e­fit from the ex­pan­sions they have in mind.

You could once talk to fa­mil­iar people across the counter at branches in your neigh­bour­hood be­fore the busi­ness ex­panded but con­sol­i­da­tion changed all that.

You fear, per­haps, the pow­ers that be are no longer the pow­ers that were.

Imag­ine, in par­tic­u­lar, that the man in the seat of power has claimed author­ity to him­self, be­hind closed doors, far be­yond what you ex­pected when share­hold­ers had the ‘‘new man­age­ment struc­ture’’ takeover.

You fear, per­haps for one rea­son or an­other, he is sim­ply not up to it.

David Shand says the grand plans and big money to­tals are right – and the cur­rent crit­ics are wrong.

Not sur­pris­ing, per­haps, that he should think so be­cause he was one of the con­sul­tants who put that new look to­gether and gave the whole­sale change a thumbs up.

Now you’d think that, given the op­por­tu­nity, share­hold­ers who are edgy and puz­zled would give it a thumbs down.

I saw a photo of Len Brown on a new train, wear­ing a grin which is a mark of him and a rail­way guard’s cap.

It re­minded me that the last man whose claim to fame in­volved trains was Mus­solini. He got Italy’s trains to run on time – but fin­ished hang­ing upside down with his mis­tress be­side him.

For­tu­nately, New Zealan­ders don’t go to those ex­tremes.

They don’t even have pub­lic opin­ion polls on the per­for­mance of elected of­fi­cials like may­ors, even if this one does sit oc­ca­sion­ally on the odd chair in sub­urbs to be talked at.

So as well as talk­ing di­rectly about Brown’s role, it’s in­ter­est­ing to see the re­ac­tion of Shand, a mem­ber of the Royal Com­mis­sion on Auck­land Gov­er­nance and who chaired the In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into lo­cal govern­ment rates. He’s at­tacked the New Zealand Herald’s ma­jor cov­er­age of what is seen in the news­room – and many homes in the for­mer in­de­pen­dent sub­urbs – as a city budget at ‘‘cri­sis point’’. On the face of it, his view can’t be ig­nored. His re­ac­tion: ‘‘This has led to the usual spate of letters from ag­grieved ratepay­ers who are only too will­ing to be­lieve the coun­cil’s fi­nances are in a ‘mess’ and that we may be fac­ing ‘ bankruptcy’.

‘‘There is no ‘cri­sis’ in the city’s fi­nances at the mo­ment but there are ma­jor is­sues to be ad­dressed.’’

The rather pa­tro­n­is­ing ref­er­ence to ‘‘ag­grieved ratepay­ers only too will­ing to be­lieve’’, etc isn’t help­ful.

Note the qual­i­fy­ing add-on – ‘‘at the mo­ment but there are ma­jor is­sues to be ad­dressed’’.

Shand’s open­ing line tells it all: ‘‘Auck­land should have in­formed de­bate about the state of the city’s fi­nances.’’

There is a need for more pub­lic aware­ness, even a spe­cialised in­de­pen­dent as­sess­ment of the facts on the grandiose Brown plans for ratepay­ers, sup­port­ive or ‘‘ag­grieved’’.

Ac­cord­ing to Shand, there’s no ev­i­dence that coun­cil debt is ‘‘be­yond pru­dent lim­its’’, and the coun­cil has an AA credit rat­ing.

He points out that the Au­di­torGen­eral must re­port on coun­cils’ fi­nan­cial health each year and she has not had con­cerns with Auck­land.

We have. So we ag­grieved ratepay­ers should ask for a spe­cial au­dit to re­spond on Auck­land’s pub­lic wor­ries, giv­ing us peace of mind and per­haps pre­vent a plan­ning train wreck.

Fi­nance de­bate: David Shand, pic­tured with Mar­garet Ba­z­ley dur­ing the 2009 Royal Com­mis­sion on Auck­land Gov­er­nance, is call­ing for more de­bate on the re­gion’s fi­nances.

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