Viewpoint – Corrupt culture ran deep

I hope people have been enjoying the summer. No matter where you go in the world you’d be hard pressed to beat the stunning environment that surrounds us here on the Coast. We are most fortunate.

Recent events suggest, however, that we haven’t been quite so fortunate in some of the activities of the legacy Rodney Council and Auckland Transport – that’s if the bribery and corruption trial of former officials in the High Court is anything to go by.

Three individuals were charged and convicted. The SFO made it clear, however, numerous others were in the frame as well (indeed a further six individuals were dismissed from AT for ‘trust and confidence’ issues). An article in the NBR quoted one senior engineer as saying, “There are plenty of others who should be found guilty who dodged a bullet… a lot more ‘professionals’ who had their noses in the trough.” Another said rorting of delegated financial authorities was common practice, tenders were rigged and smaller companies bullied.

There can be little doubt that the number of people involved, the starting date for the corruption (2006) and the sums of money are the tip of the iceberg. So too was the restriction of this particular case to solely the roading division of the Rodney Council.

The sums of money were significant. Murray Noone was convicted of receiving over $1.1 m in bribes. Barry George pleaded guilty to accepting bribes totaling $103,581, it later being revealed he’d also received another $250,000 in travel from HiWay Stabilisers which weren’t pursued as part of this case.

While Mr Noone and Mr Borlase received five year prison sentences, Mr George received 10 months home detention, no doubt a reflection of his guilty plea and ‘co-operation’, hardly a case of being ‘sent to the gallows’ in light of all the above.

For others on the gravy train there were $5000 dinners at flash restaurants, expensive accommodation and travel around the world, free iPhones, iPads and lavish parties.

Despite these bountiful disbursements, Projenz’s net profit rose from $36K in 2006 to over $8 million in 2012.

Clearly collaboration with council officers was good for business. What does this say about the contracts themselves? What sort of mark-ups existed when these generous retainers could be paid out as a matter of course?
You also have to question the organizational and political culture that enabled such behaviour to exist for so long and on such a scale. At Rodney, Wayne Walker would be ostracized by the Mayor and other councillors when he tried to drill down on the details of contracts and land ‘deals’. When I criticised the Whangaparaoa Road widening shambles the CEO (on behalf of the roading team) brought a code of conduct charge against me.
This took three months for a private consultant to investigate, cost $6000 and attempted to stifle scrutiny of this inept and costly project. On other occasions legal action would be used as a threat.Big money changes hand in councils – in contracting and in consultancies – and there is even bigger money to be made as a consequence of council activities such as the rezoning and sale of land.It’s a shame that the many honest and hardworking employees of council, many on basic wages far removed from these excesses, suffer along with those in the community who feared for their livelihoods as a consequence of this culture of corruption. In this respect a senior AT official’s recent assurance of ‘very robust processes’ rings distinctly hollow.

The investigation and court case have cost ratepayers and taxpayers many millions of dollars. As a result, accusations of council impropriety no longer seem quite so far fetched – the blinkers should be well and truly off for the public, for pliant elected representatives and for government agencies charged with investigating complaints.

This, at least, is a good thing for the future.

Albany Ward Councillor

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