Conflict of Disinterest

SOMETIMES I miss the straightforward nature of South American politics. You know from the get go that local councils are corrupt and business people go into politics for their own personal gain.

There's none of this pussy-footing round with rules, you simply work out who to pay off and how much.

Things are more troublesome here however because we like to think we are squeaky clean. Every year we parade our ranking in the world's least corrupt countries over our TV screens and rejoice, laugh at other less fortunate countries and then flick back to the footy.

But while we're all smugly satisfied nobody has their eye on the ball of where political pressure is being placed ``to get things done''.

We're so nice that we give everybody the benefit of the doubt because to not do so would wreck the myth of our paradise of pressure-free politics and then we'd be sitting closer to Panama than Denmark on that corruption list - and that might not be so funny.

But we have an Auditor General don't we? Surely he's there to sort out any conflicts of interest in the public sphere?

Apparently not - Mr Brady, the Auditor General has let the Mayor of Thames, Philippa Barriball off the hook by accepting that she was ``unaware her subdivision application had been made'' the day before the council was to make an amendment to the district plan that would negatively affect her ability to subdivide one of her properties.

Tui should take him up as a copywriter for their billboards. He'd be hilarious. Gee - I'd love to have so many subdivisions on the go that I just ``forgot'' one.

Then, three councillors at the meeting went and publicly admitted that they'd been lobbied by Ms Barriball to ditch the amendment. So amateur ... that would never happen in Panama.

The plan to restrict the ad hoc development in the area was scuttled in the end which means that Ms Barriball, the mayor, can now subdivide to her heart's content. How convenient.

The Auditor General also decided it was not in the public's interest to charge the mayor ``due to the seriousness of the consequences of conviction''. Like what? A court case would ruin her Chrissy holiday plans?

I don't remember anyone else applying this logic in the justice system. Let's see: ``We won't charge you with burglary because it'll be a bummer if we find you guilty?''

I may not have noticed this particular news story - flying as it did under the media radar if it weren't for two things; 1) a friend came back from Whitianga recently and asked ``How did such a pretty little seaside village get so damn ugly - don't they have a district plan?''

Then the Moehau Tearooms in Coromandel burnt down. They were more than 120 years old. They were what Coromandel is all about. Turns out the council initially wanted to keep the buildings to protect the unique heritage status of that area. Wharf Investments wanted apartments and commercial outlets.


The developer appeals, Thames District Council overturns its initial decision and, in a public-excluded meeting, decides it would be too expensive for the developer to maintain the building and agrees to it being demolished.

Members of the community are outraged and join together to keep the tearooms.

The Ministry of the Environment thinks they have a case. It notes it has received a letter forwarded by the local National MP Sandra Goudie from the developer giving reasons why the community group should receive no funding. And then five days before the developer and the Thames council have to submit evidence before the Environment Court - the Moehau tearooms burn down. On a night of torrential rain.

This ain't no state of Denmark -but something sure smells stink in here.

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