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Democratic Freedoms at Risk under ARC


Democratic Freedoms at Risk under ARC

The Auckland Regional Council has done a lot of damage this time round. New Zealand's biggest rates revolt ever is the face of public grievance and public resistance.

Take ARC’s meeting on the 23.2.04 and we find that

•eight months after the rates were set for this financial year 60,000 bills remain unpaid: 38,000 home-owners have not paid one cent while another 22,000 have part-paid rates

•on 19 March, Manukau City and Papukura District will receive letters reminding that part-paid or unpaid rates are overdue

•on 26 March a third reminder letter will be sent out to ratepayers with Manuakau City and Papukura District getting third reminders in April.

After the third softer-toned letters are posted and with Council’s approval a solicitor’s letter of demand will be on its way to deviant ratepayers.

At the same ARC meeting we learn that •an Auckland Civil Liberties group opposed ARC’s unfair and inequitable targeting of ratepayers when Council threatened future legal action – and ARC paid attention.

How then in our democratic country, when homeowners used language such as ‘unfair’, ‘inequitable’ and ‘unacceptable’ targeting of ratepayers, ten out of thirteen Councillors and the Chair chose to ignore these same words?

To add insult to democratic injury, on 18 February an ARC staff member wrote to the Office of the Ombudsman requesting clarification on the Council’s obligation to answer questions as part of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act. After all, the letter stated, dealing with issues was occupying large amounts of officer’s time.

Such a request to the Ombudsman’s office illustrates the real beating that DEMOCRACY has suffered in New Zealand.

Democratic principles under the Local Government Act (2002) require local authorities to act in an open, transparent, and democratically accountable manner. Ratepayers shouldn’t have to request information under the Act if transparency already existed in local government.

So I too asked for clarification about ARC’s role in providing official information under the Act from the Office of the Ombudsman - it goes something like this.

“To require a response in terms of the Official Information legislation, the Official Information Act (OIA) and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA), questions must be put so as to elicit information that already exists. Questions designed to draw an opinion are not covered by either Act.”

In other words, government agencies are required to provide official information that is 'held' and not ‘created’. On 17 February 2004, OIA questions were along these lines.

1. How many ARC councillors viewed and/or had knowledge of the ARC 2nd reminder letter sent out ratepayers regarding unpaid rates, dated 4 February 2004?

2. Which ARC Councillors, including any committee members supported the ARC 2nd reminder letter sent out to ratepayers in default of payment dated 4 February 2004?

3. Which ARC executives advised and/or confirmed that Auckland ratepayers in default should get the 2nd reminder letter dated 4 February 2004?

4. Please send via email a copy of the lawyer's letter advising legal issues and advice surrounding the 2nd letter sent to ratepayers in default of payment dated 4 February 2004. In other words, I would like a copy of legal advice that ARC sought from their lawyers regarding the 2nd reminder dated 4th February 2004

Summary

New Zealand's democratic rights have been hard fought and hard won.

Only three out of thirteen Councillor’s consistently stood their ground and protested against sky-rocketing rates inflicted on home-owners: Sandra Coney, Mike Lee and Paul Walbran. As Auckland voters, these are the only current ARC names we need to remember come election time.


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