Nothing short of exorcism can purify the Auckland Council

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Contrary to initial optimism, Auckland Super City appears to have degenerated into an uncontrollable Frankenstein Monster- and a blood-sucking Dracula. Here, the elected representatives have been forced to abdicate their powers. Shots are called by the Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) and overpaid, unelected bureaucrats.

It is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

Unheeded Complaints

We have had so many complaints going to deaf ears. People took consolation from the fact that Mayor Phil Goff would make a difference. Disappointingly, it appears that he himself is intrigued by this monster and remains uninformed.

New Zealand Herald (October 5, 2017) made shocking reading: “One in five staff at Auckland Council is earning more than $100,000 as the wages bill for the Super City blows out for the third year in a row. The number of executives earning more than $200,000 has increased by 25% in the past year, from 155 to 194. The Council and its six CCOs employ 11,893 staff, of whom 2322 earn more than $100,000.

The Brisbane City Council, often compared to Auckland Council, employs about 8000 staff, of whom 149 earn more than A$ 100,000.

Advice to Goff

The advice that I gave to Andrew Little when he took over from David Cunliffe as Labour Party Leader was to remove dead-wood and ineffective Labour management team that had led to fall of their previous leaders. He ignored it at his peril.

I have a feeling of déjà vu when giving a similar advice to Mr Goff, a former Labour leader: Please clean up the mess you have inherited – please remove (read sack) the CEO and let him sign his redundancy cheque.

The Chief Executive is ultimately responsible for the lackadaisical performance, neglect of duties and busloads of ratepayer dissatisfaction. If CEO of Fonterra creams up the company for how well it does, similarly, CEO of Auckland Council deserves the guilt and blame of ignored sewers and a growing dysfunctional monster.

Personal Experience

As a former Director Administration and Operations at Suva City Council (second to CEO) I am bewildered by lack of accountability, dereliction of duties, shoddy communication channels, sloppy financial discipline and abdication of power by the elected Councillors to bureaucrats who have overpaid themselves.

Auckland Council needs to learn protocols and managerial discipline from Suva City, a Third World Local government. Our CEO and Council Staff held the elected Councillors in high esteem, even feared them. The Mayor, CEO, Senior Executives and all relevant parties were in constant touch, operated on same frequency and were always well-informed. We were modestly paid, in fact lower than private sector. Our Councillors received minimal per diem, but were always in control. They held CEO (and staff) and the Mayor accountable. And the CEO kept the Mayor continuously informed. Most important, we diligently practised financial discipline – and respected ratepayer money.

Lesson from Fiji

Auckland Council need to learn from Fijians. Do we have effective Human Resources, Finance and other relevant committees? And do the Councillors in relevant Committees know what is going on? Why we have such a big mess? Why deviation from budgets and objectives? Do they have one-to -one weekly or monthly meetings with CEO and Mayor to ensure things are moving according to budget, plans, and objectives? Do we have credible and effective communication channels?

I am a migrant who was rejected to add colour to the Council’s Communications department. Why does the Mayor learn about Council dysfunction from the media? Who advised him that the flooding in New Lynn was due to global warming?

You need not be a rocket scientist to know if a month’s rain fell in one hour, no Council reticulation system can handle this Act of God. It seems I need to hold a training session for Council’s wanting Communication department!

Blatant mismanagement

The Weekend Herald (October 7, 2017) tells of blatant mismanagement of senior management pay, spiralling out of control. In three years to 2017, we saw 25% increase in Auckland Council, 21.5% in Auckland Transport and eye-watering 89% in ATEED. This was when inflation was running below 2%. Heads would have rolled if this had happened in Suva.

In contrast, the biggest saving of 20% was made by Watercare, which is headed by a migrant Fijian, Raveen Jaduram. It shows the benefits of employing people with wider international exposure from Third World Countries. They value limited resources, have tendency to be miser and possess better appreciation of other people’s money.

This can only happen in an environment where cronies, people from old school-boys club, political connections and other social contacts do not access rear entry to executive, boards and other key positions.

Unfortunately, migrants like me lack opportunities of such backdoor entries.

Neither Ethnic nor Maori

New Zealand Herald recently reported on the colour of the Council – it is still very White. And there is no ethnic or brown (read Maori) executive up to second tier of the whole organisation.

Ironically, Mr Goff admitted in Q+ A (October 8, 2017) that 40% of Aucklanders were born outside New Zealand. I wonder whether that is reflected in the makeup of the Council and its staffing.

Remedial Action:

Remove CEO for lack of performance; Give powers back to elected representatives; Freeze pay and staff-intake; Undertake staffing and pay structure, in line with similar overseas comparatives (Brisbane); Terminate contract of top executives and ask them to re-apply; Review internal reporting, communication channels and financial discipline; Set up proper measurable KPIs, linking pay increases against stringent measures.

Failing this, the incoming government should institute Section 10 of Local Government Act 2002, and seek Ministerial invention, even to appoint Crown Review Team or Manager.

We ratepayers are fed up. We call the Government to put a stake through the heart of this Dracula, created by Rodney Hide. It has grown too fat, gone out of control, and is fast sucking our blood.

Please Minister, free us from this misery!

Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political observer, a media commentator and journalist. His comments are often sharp and spicy. He lives in Auckland and runs his Blog, ‘Fiji Pundit.’

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