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Regional councillor accuses ORC of unlawful secrecy

Otago regional councillor Michael Laws today said that his council “has likely broken the law” in hiding an independent review of its consents function from public or media scrutiny.

The Dunstan Ward councillor absented himself from the ORC regulatory committee yesterday afternoon “rather than be a party to that kind of skulduggery. In short, the Council lied about why it was taking the review in secret. It even lied about what it was hiding.”

The independent review of the Council’s consents service was sought by the governance team last year after concerns were expressed – both publicly and privately – as to whether best practice procedures were being observed.

The review was prepared and presented by Philip Maw and Steven Daysh a lawyer and planner respectively with experience in local government and consents functions. It was presented to a secret workshop on Wednesday and then discussed, in another secret public-excluded committee, on Thursday afternoon.

Cr Laws challenged the need to take the report in secret and the reasons being used by the Chief Executive and leadership of the ORC to do so.

“ The reasons given were all bogus. Every one of them. In short, it was a lie

designed to withhold information that might be seen as critical of Council.

The law does not allow councils to protect themselves from potential

embarrassment.

In fact, the over-riding principle of the Local Government Act 2002 is

open government. The Otago Regional Council is defying the very law

that creates and sustains it.” *

Cr Laws said that he was looking to employ whistleblower legislation or the Official Information Act to get the report released.

“ When people read it, they will wonder what the fuss is about.

Sure, the review identifies flaws but it doesn’t identify individuals at fault but

systems that need improvement. But it’s the direct lying, and direct denial of

open government principles that cannot be tolerated.”

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