Auckland CCO appointments - an invitation to corrupt

Rodney Hide's recent appointments ensure the new CCOs will be wide open to suspicions of corruption, justified or not

Between the bailout of South Canterbury Finance and the Christchurch earthquake, another ominous piece of news seems to have almost completely zipped by beneath the public radar.

On 30 August Rodney Hide announced the names of those who will run the six new Auckland CCOs (Council Controlled Organisations) which will come into existence from the beginning of November.

These people will have enormous influence over the development of infrastructure and assets of a third of New Zealand’s population.

Yet – as John Landrigan cogently points out in an article in yesterday’s The Aucklander – the process and nature of these appointments take us down a highly dangerous track.

With a number of board members holding interlocking directorships and interests in companies like Hawkins Construction, Downer Edi, Simpson Grierson, Beca Group and Sea+City Projects, the CCOs are from day one likely to be vulnerable to every conceivable suspicion of chicanery.

It is almost as if we are deliberately modelling ourselves on international examples of how to set up a corrupt bureaucracy. Has New Zealand become an outlier because we rank too well on the public probity stakes?

Why is this something from international business practice that we should knowingly adopt?

It doesn’t take much to imagine what might happen when the director of a CCO is also a director of an ‘interested party.’

Of course we all know we are in a small country where conflicts of interest can easily arise.

But surely that pool isn’t so limited that we can’t do better than this – not to mention the fact that of all six chairs, not one is a woman.

The arrogance of Rodney Hide in making these appointments without any consultation is stunning, especially when the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance warned specifically against appointing directors who were also part of companies with aligned commercial interests.

Mr Hide uses the 2008 court decision made after the Labtests/Diagnostic Medlab imbroglio to justify these appointments - yet he seems to have no awareness of how deeply suspicious many Aucklanders remain of that particular process, a suspicion it will take more than a Court of Appeal decision to ameliorate.

I suspect that National is consciously using Mr Hide as a stalking horse to push the boundaries of probity, and to appease the same kind of campaign donors they’re currently appealing to with their proposed employment law reforms.

It is certainly not going to be hard to build conspiracy theories around these kind of appointments, or to suspect conflicts of interest when they don’t exist.

This is a fatally flawed model, whichever way you cut it.

When Mr Hide’s response is to point out the integrity of the people involved without actually giving any evidence of it, I am reminded of a certain Mr Hubbard and others in the financial world who have trumpeted their integrity – and look at who has paid the price for that.