Democracy — a system of running organizations, businesses, and groups in which each member is entitled to vote and take part in decisions.
Autocracy — government by a single person or small group that has unlimited power or authority, or the power or authority of such a person or group.
What we have in Kapiti is a hybrid of these two: despite having an elected board of directors, a.k.a. councilors, the council corporation is for all intents and purposes run by a small bureaucratic elite who think they know best, view elected representatives with disdain, investigative journalists as pests, and critics as enemies.
But even the elected mayor has behaved like this, most prominently in backing then CE Dougherty’s attacks on the Osbornes of Waikanae last year. The Mayor, as well as Cr Cootes, indulge in attacking those who criticize their stance on issues, rather than addressing the arguments.
A few years ago the country’s top traffic cop said, “something awful seems to happen to [otherwise nice] people when they get behind the wheel of a car.”
Does that explain why three successive mayors — Rowan, Church and now Guru — have all done the exact opposite of what they were elected on? Another case of when in a position of power, it’s inevitable that “all power corrupts”?
We think so. Some politicians, including local councilors, undoubtedly start with good intentions, but get overwhelmed by the establishment and the system. There were a couple of new councilors — Benton and Buswell — who we were cautiously optimistic about 2 years ago, but they too have disappointed.
There are several important council management proposals which the councilors have demonstrated that they have not given the scrutiny that they should have; the most recent being the half-baked idea to borrow to speculate in financial markets. David Webber, in another letter to the Kapiti News this past week, states it “breaks the golden rule of Local Government New Zealand that councils only borrow for the purposes of investment infrastructure and fixed assets.”
All this leads to the question, can the system be reformed?
Maybe the most important reform is simply what is specifically expected of councils in the Local Government Act — transparency.
Important matters are usually conducted in secrecy because allegedly “good reasons” exist for it. We are highly dubious. Journalists no longer attend council meetings because it’s rare that anything important is something that they are able or allowed to report.
The public can make Official Information requests, but often they are refused for spurious reasons. We had a request refused last year because, it was claimed, it would take staff too long to check the answers.
Maybe if all council documents were on its website, the public wouldn’t need to ask; they could find out themselves.
And when it comes to the all-too-prevalent official secrecy, there is now a general political movement in the country that wants to have all government documents declassified after 5 years.
These bureaucrats and politicians are spending the public’s money and the public have a right to know exactly how.
Another important reform would be to have binding citizens-initiated referenda. If a certain percentage of those on the electoral role can gather enough signatures for a subject for vote, it must be held, and the outcome respected.
There would be a case, however, for exempting taxes (rates) from this as inevitably people will vote for reductions while expecting increases in facilities and services — you can’t have it both ways; although of course, as we maintain, much increased efficiency will produce better services and amenities without rates increases.
We see the demand for reform growing much louder over the next 12 months.