Ombudsman will investigate secrecy over law firm payments
Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer
Ombudsman will investigate Auckland Council’s secrecy over law firm payments
The Office of the Ombudsman has confirmed that Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem will investigate a complaint made by Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer over the council’s refusal to disclose what it has paid its different legal providers over the past two years.
The Auckland Council and its CCOs last year spent over $20m on lawyers, but only Watercare was prepared to reveal how much it paid each external provider.
The council rejected Mr Brewer’s information request claiming that ‘disclosing this information may prejudice our negotiations with external legal providers in the future and consequently, Auckland Council’s commercial position.’
In his complaint to the Ombudsman last month, Mr Brewer noted that council-owned “Watercare obviously didn’t feel their commercial position was at risk, which I believe is an important consideration in your review.”
Auckland Council was only prepared to release a list of the top five legal firms in terms of spend in alphabetical order. This policy of confidential payments to the city’s law firms has since been endorsed publicly by Auckland Mayor Len Brown, who campaigned on bringing greater transparency and accountability to the town hall.
“Claiming that disclosing this information would be a negative for Auckland Council’s commercial position does not hold water and frankly should not override the ratepayers’ right to know how much of their money is being pumped into which law firms,” says Mr Brewer.
Mr Brewer said the fact that the Ombudsman’s office has confirmed in writing that they are now putting resources into investigating the matter shows at the very least the council’s refusal to release the information is now under serious question.