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The Black Budget

The Black Budget

Sun, Aug 24 2014

The US Government has what’s known as “The Black Budget” a top-secret allocation, estimated at $52.6 billion in 2013, that funds the country’s covert action, surveillance and counterintelligence programmes across more than a dozen agencies.

Here in Hawke’s Bay, we too have a “Black Budget” – the closely guarded amount to be spent by HBRIC, the Regional Council’s holding company, to develop and market the CHB dam project.

On Wednesday, the Council will be debating – in public-excluded session, as matters now stand – a “re-forecasting” of this budget.

One need not be a brain surgeon to surmise that a “re-forecast” involves an additional spend.

At its last public accounting of the dam development spend, presented at the 30 July Council meeting, HBRIC reported that $11.5 million in capital expenditure and $529,362 in operating expenditure had occurred in the year through June 2014. This so-called “Phase 2” spending is in addition to $3.5 million spent in “Phase 1”. All in, by my calculations, about $15.5 million to date. About $2.7 million has been underwritten by the Ministry for Primary Industries, with some additional contribution by institutional investors (now departed).

And now a “re-forecast” on Wednesday – to be decided in secret against the backdrop of an ever changing “financial close” date by which a yes/no decision on the dam is projected to be made … now suggested as 31 March by HBRIC.

The current legal appeals regarding the Board of Inquiry’s (BOI) plan for the Tukituki will not be heard until November, at the most optimistic scheduling, with those matters not resolved fully probably until next year. Further uncertainty is created by HBRIC’s application to take all 15 million cubic metres of water made available from the Ruataniwha aquifer in the BOI’s decision. A number of growers have indicated they will challenge that proposal, which bears on who might have access to aquifer water instead of dam water.

So one might reasonably worry that the “re-forecast” period required to be funded could well extend beyond the new projected March close date.

When is enough, enough? How much is required?

The public has every right to know. Absolutely nothing about this “re-forecast” deserves to be considered in secret.

And therefore an attempt will be made to conduct this debate in public session on Wednesday.

If that fails, as past history suggests it will, then I urge you to approach the councillors of your choice on Thursday with this simple question: “Did you vote yesterday to allocate additional funding to progress the Ruataniwha water storage scheme?”

I will be happy to report in BayBuzz the response you get.

Tom Belford

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