Ombudsman’s ruling fails to please
One man’s quest for more openness over Smartlinx 3 has hit a brick wall, with the Office of the Ombudsman satisfied that a statement of ‘‘ background information’’ from Porirua City Council settles the matter.
Titahi Bay resident John Watson has long claimed that the public have been cheated out of the real information behind the ‘‘community’’ company that promised to bring affordable and ultrafast broadband to Porirua and the Hutt Valley.
Meetings of the PCC Smartlinx 3 subcommittee have always been held with the public excluded, and Mr Watson says the ‘‘cone of silence’’ that exists around the companies’ dealings, involving unbudgeted ratepayer funds, is unacceptable.
Smartlinx 3 is owned by PCC, the Hutt City and Upper Hutt councils, Hutt Mana Charitable Trust – which has put $1.8 million into the company – and smaller, private shareholders. The company received $2.3m from the Government.
A total of $265,000 has been invested by PCC since 2005.
After lobbying the Ombudsman tirelessly in 2010, particularly for information about Smartlinx 3 defaulting on a $500,000 South Canterbury Finance loan, Mr Watson received his decision from the Ombudsman on January 19.
It said that despite PCC having the right to withhold the information Mr Watson requested, after considering his submissions a ‘‘clearer or fuller statement’’ was required from PCC about its involvement with the broadband company.
A statement was released in due course last week, and while it provided plenty of background on how important broadband is for Porirua’s economic growth and how the company is ‘‘pursuing opportunities’’, Mr Watson said it was barely half the information he desired.
He said he believed that new council chief executive Gary Simpson would be more ‘‘forthcoming’’ on the issue than his predecessor Roger Blakeley and ‘‘institute more openness’’ with the community, but had been proved wrong.
‘‘It’s a rehash of common knowledge, and certainly doesn’t represent an answer to my complaint to the Ombudsman. There has been no public consultation, [and] some of these [subcommittee] meetings are lasting three minutes. If the council media release represents the efforts of the Ombudsman’s office over eight months, then the effectiveness of that office in having council produce real accountability has to be questioned.’’
Mr Simpson told the Kapi-Mana News there were unlikely to be any further statements regarding Smartlinx 3, as the broadband rollout was under way.
He said there were commercially sensitive issues at stake, involving private shareholders, and the Ombudsman’s decision now closed the matter.