Horowhenua correspondent Veronica Harrod says an increasing number of residents are worried about Horowhenua District Council’s intention to transfer up to $28 million (40 percent, of public assets), and almost $1 million annually to an unproven Horowhenua New Zealand Trust.
The Council has gone quiet since chief executive David Clapperton stated in the media last month the first block of public assets, up to $7 million, would be transferred to the Horowhenua New Zealand Trust (HNZT) in the next few months for seed capital.
Council’s annual economic development budget is likely to be made available to the Trust, “via agreed contract,” said Council’s economic development manager Shanon Grainger. Council has spent between $800,000 and $900,000 annually for the past two years on “economic development” but no details are available on what the money has been spent on.
Conflicts of interest?
All six self-appointed trustees of HNZT have been board members of Horowhenua District Council’s in-house Economic Development Board (EDB) for at least five years raising conflict of interest concerns.
There is a conflict of interest clause in the EDB’s terms of reference but since the last local body elections the terms of reference have lapsed. Audit NZ has also criticised Council for the last two years for its weak conflict of interest policies, some of which are still outstanding.
EDB members and trustees of HNZT have multi-million dollar interests in land and property development and construction that have been targeted as potentially profit generating projects by HNZT.
EDB members and trustees of HNZT with extensive multi-million dollar interests in land and property development and construction include EDB deputy chair and deputy mayor Wayne Bishop and EDB member and trustee of HNZT Evan Kroll.
Trustees scope of action
The Trust Deed of HNZT referring to “self-interested dealings” only excludes trustees from taking part in deliberations on matters they have a conflict with but trustees are not excluded from being associated with any person, company or body with which the Trust enters into a contract or other agreement.”
A trustee also, “may be employed in any such business carried on by the Trust or in which the Trust is interested and may act as director or officer of any company or body in which the Trust may have an interest.”
There is also public disquiet over an “advisory board/committee” established by HNZT because the public don’t know the identity of advisory board members, how much influence they have or whether they are bound by the Trust Deed, in particular the clauses on ‘self-interested dealings.”