Hot on the heels of an austerity budget, Porirua City Council will spend $8100 to send a delegation to Porirua’s sister city Nishio, Japan in October. ANDREA O’NEIL asks what value Porirua is getting from its sister cities.
Like any family, Porirua and its sister cities have a relationship that runs hot and cold.
For years there has been minimal contact between city officials and their counterparts in Nishio, Japan. Porirua’s relationship with sister city Blacktown in Sydney has been largely restricted to artistic exchanges.
The sister cities scheme will be scrutinised this year in a review commissioned by councillor Liz Kelly, who holds the sister cities portfolio.
‘‘I want to have an understanding of what exactly we’re spending this money on,’’ she says.
‘‘It’s not just about being friendly and having these relationships: there has to be some sort of value.’’
June’s Long Term Plan reduced the city’s sister cities budget by 6 per cent to $83,660.
However, council records show little of that budget gets spent, with just a few thousand given to schools for exchanges to Nishio and Blacktown and several thousand spent hosting delegations from those cities when they visit Porirua about once every two years.
Some money is spent hosting gardeners sent from Nishio to maintain Pataka’s Japanese garden, but their flights are covered by Nishio.
The Sars outbreak and last year’s Japanese earthquake and nuclear scare discouraged visits between Nishio and Porirua, Ms Kelly says.
But five years after the last visit, a delegation will visit Nishio this October, comprising Ms Kelly, who will pay her own way, mayor Nick Leggett, councillor Ken Douglas, and council chief executive Gary Simpson.
Sister cities were created post-World War II to promote world peace but the focus going forward will be economic opportunities, Ms Kelly says.
‘‘ There’s a real focus now on using sister cities . . . to look for economic opportunities. These aren’t junkets.’’
Wellington mayor Celia WadeBrown secured several contracts from her May visit to sister city Beijing, Ms Kelly says.
Porirua’s delegation will visit Mitsubishi, which has a yard in Porirua, hoping to find some business opportunities, Ms Kelly says.
‘‘Until you can actually sit down at the table and talk to someone, you don’t know what the opportunities are.’’
Nishio recently amalgamated with five neighbouring cities and Ms Kelly is also keen to find out the benefits and drawbacks of amalgamation, she says.
In the future, Porirua businesses – paying their own way – could make up delegations to Nishio and friendly city Yangzhou in China, says Darcy Nicholas, PCC’s general manager of community services.
Hutt and Wellington already take businesses to sister cities.
Yoyo relationship: After years of minimal contact and underspending, Porirua is hoping to get economic benefits from its sister cities. World yoyo champion Hiroyuki Suzuki, 14, visited Postgate School in a 2003 exchange from Nishio.
Kassie Alesana, 21, student. ‘‘I personally have had my own benefit with Nishio, experiencing a different culture. Anyone who goes overseas, even to Australia, will see a different culture. Even though we have so many different cultures here, we’re still quite ignorant of the outside world, and it’s quite good to have different points of views.’’
David Purdue, 27, Porirua fitness, youth and council worker. ‘‘For youth, we should have sister cities. Because the youth are the next generation and they’re the ones that understand more than the old ones. For them to have those opportunities would be the ultimate goal.’’
Ira Fernando, 78, retired housewife. ‘‘We are a multi-cultural country, and Porirua is even more so. To have relationships with other countries is a good thing.’’