It looks like our indigenous persons can chalk up another triumph in having craven public servants put iwi interests ahead of the wider public’s.
The bureaucrats in this tawdry tale of ineptitude are the tossers at the Overseas Investment Office who are dab hands at rubber-stamping applications for foreigners to buy chunks of the country but not so good at ensuring the conditions are met.
Mind you, they have done our indigenous persons a big favour in this case and will have earned lots of brownie points from their political masters in the Beehive.
Strictly speaking, as a member of the Government, Alf should be applauding them.
He will do so publicly (which may well help our team to keep the Maori Party on side).
Well, frankly, he is dismayed to learn that Kiwis may be denied access to a beach in Northland by a foreigner who has failed to stick to his commitments.
The story is told at Stuff today:
New Zealand’s richest man has reneged on guaranteed public access across his land to one of the country’s most beautiful beaches.
To get approval to buy his $50 million farm in Northland’s Helena Bay, Russian mogul Alexander Abramov promised to provide a legal right of way to the Walking Access Commission.
The public agency was set up after the divisive foreshore and seabed stoush, to protect Kiwis’ right to walk our coastlines.
Here’s where the tossers at the Overseas Investment Office come into the picture.
They put their rubber stamp on an application by the rich Russian to buy his 215-hectare farm, north of Whangarei in January 2009.
But there was a condition. He was required to provide public walking access over his land in partnership with the WAC.
As things turned out, it looks like the Russian mogul has much the same disdain for his commitments as Putin has for the amnesties he signs.
Instead of granting the right of way to a public agency acting for all New Zealanders, he gave it to the local iwi, Ngatiwai.
The iwi must have been over the moon with delight.
As to the tossers at the Overseas Investment Office whose job is to serve the public – correction, whose job should be to serve the public – they clearly have fallen down on the job.
Having rubber-stamped the Russian’s application, they then rubber-stamped his decision to give the right of way to a few indigenous persons.
Six years after the approval no easements have been registered with the WAC and documents obtained by the Sunday Star-Times under the Official Information Act show the OIO has instead sanctioned Abramov granting the easements to the Ngatiwai Trust Board.
Wade Doak, a world renowned diver, photographer and environmentalist sometimes compared to Jacques Cousteau, said he had watched developments at Helena Bay with concern. He lives not far away in Tutukaka.
New Zealand was increasingly seen as a “lifeboat for many wealthy foreigners” and he hated the thought of New Zealanders being shut out from the foreshore.
Alf will put his money on the Government doing not a fat rat to put things right (although he will keep this wager very private).
On the other hand, he takes his hat off to Abramov for fostering good relations with the iwi.
According to Doak, this has paid off handsomely.
He had been amazed Abramov had been granted concessions like the deepening of the bay and the building of a path over the foreshore without opposition from local Maori.
As to the public – it looks like they are being told to fuck off while the iwi do nicely, thank you, from the deal.
The troubled Mokau Marae, about 5km from the estate, will in practice manage access to most of the route. One large section of the track will be only for the Mokau hapu and “special guests”.
The route takes in seven pa sites and several sacred burial grounds making the issue of public access sensitive for Maori.
Abramov has helped the marae in many ways and the project has been a major employer of Ngatiwai members. He says he will continue to employ as many Ngatiwai people as possible.
Ngatiwai also expects Abramov to fix damage to the pa sites on the land caused by previous owners making farm tracks.
It’s hard to see what clout can be exercised by the Walking Access Commission.
Its chief executive Mark Neeson has said the commission expects to have a say on any overseas purchase conditions relating to public access to the outdoors for New Zealanders.
But when push comes to shove, he is helpless.
“The commission became aware of the proposed amendments after they had been discussed and agreed by other parties. At that point, it was unlikely the commission would obtain any change to the proposed amended conditions,” he said in a statement to the Sunday Star-Times.
And how generous will the iwi be to the rest of us?
Not much by the sound of it (just as Alf is sceptical about their being too generous with any bits of the foreshore they might secure).
Clive Stone, a trustee of the Mokau Marae, denied Ngatiwai would control access.
“The Department of Conservation and the Walkways Commission walked all over our mana by not talking to us about going into our culturally sensitive sites,” he said.
“We’re not worried about what they do outside those pa sites . . .We will not allow anyone to walk all over our pa. It’s not about controlling access. It’s about controlling access to our sacred sites.”
Of course not.
Mind you, our indigenous persons have become dead clever at finding sensitive sites in places that frustrate development and access.