If you are indigenous (and special) you get to sit on a board – others have a scant say through panels

Spare a thought for Feroz Ali, a bloke who has become sadly disillusioned.

He has resigned as chairman of the Auckland Council Ethnic People’s Advisory Panel after just 11 months on the job, saying the panel is a “token” body.

Feroz Ali said the panel had no real status and he was unhappy about what it was costing ratepayers.

This cost happens to be bugger all, compared with the cost of accommodating the demands of indigenous persons to exercise power without having to bother with the irksome business of getting elected. The council said the budget for running the ethnic board was between $70,000 and $85,000 a year.

The NZ Herald today records Ali’s disappointment:

“As chair, I found that the panel is only there for token consultation and frankly a waste of ratepayers’ money,” he said in an email to panel members after tendering his resignation on Wednesday.

He had “serious concerns about the governance in Auckland Council”.

Mr Ali said yesterday he had attended five meetings since being appointed, but felt uneasy about getting $500 for each meeting he chaired. Other members received $200 for each meeting they attended.

“For what’s happening, if you look at some of the decisions coming around the council now, I think it’s morally irresponsible for me to collect $500 to chair a meeting and to make very subjective views,” Mr Ali said.

“There are about half a dozen panels that has been created, costing ratepayers about half a million dollars, that money could be put to better use.”

Alf strongly suggests Ali have a chat with others sitting on these panels and advisory boards and persuades them to follow his splendid example.

Denise Krum, a councillor who has a liaison role to keep in touch with Ali’s panel, said she has had no communication with the mayor or his office since Mr Ali’s resignation.

“I have a great deal of sympathy for Feroz’s view … I’m aware that there’s some real disillusionment, several of them,” she said.

Ms Krum said she too was thinking of resigning as the panel’s lead and liaison councillor, and the Herald understands that at least three of the 10 remaining panels were also planning to leave.

“These are exceptional people, which then makes it exceptionally regrettable that they’re potentially wasting their time and wasting ratepayers’ money,” she said.

The Herald has also talked with a panel member who said the panel existed just so the council could say it has done the “politically correct” thing.

“We have been asked for advice on matters like community consultation on the drug policy, events and the long-term plan, but we know our advice is not what they are after,” said the member.

“The panel is here just so that they can put a rubber stamp to say ‘yes, we have consulted the ethnic community’ on these issues.”

But the council is obviously so busy consulting with a plethora of panels that we  can’t seriously expect it to absorb too much of what it is told.

These advisory panels are supposed to identify and communicate to the council the interests and preferences of the community of Auckland relating to the specific portfolio of each panel (youth, ethnic, rural, etc).

The panels are listed here:

Demographic panels

Sector panels

Technical panels

But wait a mo’.

Isn’t there an important omission?

Nah.

Our indigenous persons are special and accordingly enjoy special privileges.

The Independent Maori Statutory Board is introduced to us here:

The purpose of the board is to assist the Auckland Council to make decisions, perform its functions and exercise its powers. To do this, the board:

  • Puts forward the cultural, economic, environmental, and social issues that are significant for mana whenua groups and Mātāwaka in Tāmaki Makaurau, and
  • Makes sure that the council complies with statutory provisions that refer to the Treaty of Waitangi.

But as well as this the council wants us Aucklander have been blessed with the council’s Mana whenua – kaitiaki (iwi resource management contacts)

Auckland Council engages with mana whenua on resource management matters, including resource consents and plan changes.

To enable us to do this we maintain a list of iwi authorities, organisations and individuals representing the interests of mana whenua iwi and hapū of the Auckland region.

Some people, of course, don’t look kindly on the idea our indigenous persons should be entitled to special treatment.

They have good reasons for this, of course. Among them, giving indigenous persons special treatment is costly.

There are implications for the integrity of our democracy too.

But hey – the indigenous persons’ boats got here before anyone else’s boats and that should be recognised in our governance arrangements.

One dissident is former ACT MP Murel Newman, who tells us: 

In Auckland, the Independent Maori Statutory Board was established through legislation in 2010, when the new super city was being formed. The Board of nine members has a secretariat of eleven staff and a budget of $2.6 million. Two members of the Board with full voting rights, sit on each of the Auckland Council’s standing committees dealing with the management of the region’s natural and physical resources.

Since its inception, this Board has never been far from controversy. Aucklanders overwhelmingly opposed its establishment, and there was a huge public outcry over the $3.4 million being sought in running costs.

The Board made headline news around the world in 2011 when it objected that building a $2.4 billion rail tunnel in central Auckland might disturb Horotiu, the taniwha that they claimed lived under the Town Hall. In 2012, the Board demanded the council spend a massive $30 million a year on improving the ‘wellbeing’ of Maori.

More recently the Board has been working with 19 Auckland iwi to ensure that in the proposed unitary plan, sites of significance to Maori are given “protected” status, thereby enabling iwi to become active participants in the resource consent process. As a result – and to the great consternation of locals – the number of such sites identified on maps, has risen from 61 to over 3,600, with, apparently, many more in the pipeline.

With previous councils having refused to recognise that most of these sites needed protected status, there is clearly a need for a process of independent verification before they are notified on maps, in order to protect the property rights of Auckland ratepayers.

Despite the public outrage and the controversies, the Independent Maori Statutory Board has become a model for the Local Government Commission, when dealing with requests for amalgamation.

Feroz Ali might like to consider all this as he steps down from his impotent advisory panel.

If his forefathers had come here on a canoe a few centuries ago he would have more influence.

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