Om­buds­man’s rul­ing fails to please

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By KRIS DANDO

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.

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