The Auditor General offered her apologies to Kaipara ratepayers at a public meeting at The Club, Mangawhai Heads, on December 4, 2013 just after releasing the 400-page Inquiry Report that had taken two years to write. I was there. I overheard her admitting to Colin Dale that the Council would have every right to sue her office for damages to the tune of between $20 and $30 million. That was her immediate gut reaction but it was never publicised of course.
However, you can imagine my amazement when I discovered that the KDC Commissioners had agreed to the AG subsequent spin that a claim by Council filed against the AG in the High Court would be unsuccessful because the Council was really to blame. They had the responsibility to comply with statutory obligations, not the auditor. Nice one AG!
So the negligence and incompetence of Audit New Zealand in failing to act on the warnings received by them (John Dickie, Clive Boonham and the MRRA had written repeatedly to Audit NZ and the auditor general and the minister commencing in 2009) pointing out the glaring irregularities in no way contributed to the debacle? Really?
Duly chastened, the Commissioners settled for mediation and were offered a miserly $5.3m down payment in exchange for a no-blame clause so that the whole issue can never be revisited. We, the ratepayers have been shafted again, and I know who has shafted us: the AG, the government-appointed Commissioners and the master puppeteer, the government that hides behind them both.
$5.3m not enough
I received the information that the Auditor General Ms Lyn Provost had settled compensation of $5.3m with the Commissioners of the Kaipara district Council. This compensation was paid as the Auditor Generals contractors had failed to carry out its legal functions, ie the audit was not carried out to the standards required for the years 2005 to 2013. This complete failure was acknowledged by Ms Provost at her presentation to the Mangawhai community. At that presentation Ms Provost offered no compensation.
Several legally qualified members of the Mangawhai community had, after lengthy consideration of the precedents on law where auditors fail in their duty, come to a compensation figure of $31m to be paid to the Kaipara District Council. This figure was acknowledged by Messrs Sabin and Barry as an appropriate figure in several of their public utterances and should be the compensation paid by the Office of the Auditor General to the Kaipara Council for failing to carry out the audits.
Mr Robertson why have you accepted a pittance? Please explain!
G J Smith
It has been announced that the Kaipara Commissioners have settled with the Auditor General over the huge cost blowout resulting from council and audit failures between 2000 and 2010. The settlement amount is just over $5m. The amount missing is over $55m. Ratepayers are going to cough up the missing fifty, because the commissioners are not looking for anyone else to be accountable.
John Robertson has announced to Radio NZ that the money will be used to retire overall debt, and that there might be a slight effect on future rates as a result – no promises. This money was a token settlement of a blowout in the EcoCare sewage scheme – nothing else – so why is the money not being applied directly to reduction of the debt burden being carried by Mangahwai ratepayers? Nobody else deserves a penny of this money.
We sought a copy of the claim lodged in the High Court (the one that has been settled out of court.) It now turns out that the commissioners were lying to all of us – there never was a claim in the High Court, so the council never intended to sue the auditor general for the lost money. Very quick to sue innocent ratepayers, and refuse to negotiate out-of-court. Very very slow to sue anyone else, and always happy to have behind-the-scenes chats and deals with the guilty malefactors.
It will be interesting to see how these questions get answered in the next issue.
Commissioner John Robertson responds:
Mr Rogan’s claim that the Kaipara District Council did not file for damages in the High Court against the Auditor General is absurd. Of course we filed for damages. Mr Rogan’s MRRA knows it, for their solicitor sought release of the High Court documents filed by Council against the Auditor General on the same day that Mr Rogan wrote you his letter.
Rogan’s claim that the amount “missing” is over $55 million is also absurd. The gap between the cost of the Scheme that was consulted on and what was actually spent is around $22 million. The settlement reduces that gap by over 20 percent.
And he is also wrong on who is bearing the cost of the $22m gap. Approximately $18 million of the Mangawhai Community Wastewater Scheme debt is being paid for by rates contributed by all 14,000 Kaipara ratepayers. That is why it is right that all ratepayers benefit from the debt reduction arising from the settlement.
The MHRS is barking up the wrong tree in its anti-mangrove campaign. I must say I support MHRS efforts to open and maintain a safe harbour entrance though I am more than skeptical over the moves it plans.
Any analysis of harbour bar siltation must take into account the action of the commercial sand miners who dredged hundreds of tons of sand over the bar and adjacent to Picnic Bay. For several decades commercial sand miners kept the harbour entrance deep so they could get their barges into the harbour!
That was in the days when the MHRS claims the harbour was largely clean of mangroves and that alone kept the entrance deep. For good reason commercial sand mining in that area was terminated largely because of downstream environmental damage. Since then the current siltation problems have arisen and are probably due to the absence of commercial sand mining than anything else.
The anti mangrove issue looks like a red herring when the facts reveal flaws in the MHRS argument.
Fact 1: The harbour bar today is about the same depth at high tide as it was back in 1919. I have a copy of the New Zealand pilot for 1919 that provides that information.
Fact 2: Coastal ships have been wrecked on the bar, or run aground, ever since the first colonial trading craft started working this harbour. If you believe MHRS findings it’s clear they were being wrecked during a long period when the MHRS alleges that there were very few or no mangroves in the harbour. From this it can be deduced that for most of its life the harbour bar was no deeper when there were no mangroves around to impede the flow of water. So history shows that removing more mangroves in the upper harbour will probably make no difference to the bar's depth.
Fact 3: The large sand dunes at the southern end of the Sand Spit have been filling up the harbour with sand for thousands of years and they are not about to stop now. In stiff easterlies Tern Point, Pearson Street and other parts to the west get a fair dump of sand 'snow fall'. Thousands of tons of sand get dumped in the harbour causing it to silt up, probably a lot more than the presence of relative new chum mangroves.
Fact 4: The MHRS tends to take its advice from a single consultancy and that consultancy receives contracts to conduct the physical work it recommends. The consultancy's advice is hardly impartial if it’s in its interest to recommend a programme like mangrove clearance, which can provide it with further work. In the past the MHRS has often challenged professional advice from DOC which comes with impartiality on scientific matters.
Fact 5: The MHRS is spending ratepayer money and as such should be calling for tenders for this work and ensuring that there are no clashes of interest.
Fact 6: The residents of Tern Point have long been concerned about the huge migration of sand on to the easterly part of the gated community of the ever mobile sand dunes are more likely to be the cause mangroves
Fact 7: Mangroves protect the shoreline. The three worst places of coastal erosion in the upper harbour are Moirs Point, the peninsula that runs from Mangawhai hotel to the end of Pearson Street, and some erosion to the southern bund wall that protects both Tern Point and the Bull family farm.
The MHRS should go back to the drawing board and evaluate the effect wind blown sand is having on the siltation of the harbour and take into account the effects that commercial sand dredging had on depth maintenance over the bar if it is seriously concerned about the harbour bar siltation.
There are many who feel ill at ease that the MHRS's limited perspective on the problem by receiving most of its advice from the same sources that execute the so called corrective measures. The public meeting that the MHRS recently held was a shambles. Pro mangrove removers shouted down any one who challenged their proposal and thus deprived many folk who came along with an open mind to hear any other points of view.