23 Mar 2019

Otago council accused of hiding report

3:03 pm on 23 March 2019

Otago regional councillor Michael Laws is accusing his council of hiding an independent report into its consents process.

New Otago Regional Councillor Michael Laws.

New Otago Regional Councillor Michael Laws. Photo: Supplied

Mr Laws said it was because the council did not want to embarrass its staff, but the council said it has kept the report under wraps to protect an individual's privacy, to protect confidential information and maintain legal privilege.

Last year the council sought an independent review of its consents process after concerns were raised.

Councillors received a copy of that review last Friday and considered it at a closed workshop and meeting this week.

But Mr Laws said nothing in the report needed to be secret.

"The truth is, and this has been confessed to me privately by the chief executive, but also by the governance team, they were embarrassed and they thought their staff would be embarrassed by some of the findings of the review," he said.

The law does not allow councils to protect themselves from potential embarrassment, he said.

Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said after Mr Laws left the room, the councillors voted unanimously to discuss the report in private.

"You need to abide by the majority vote, that's politics. It's almost a bit of grandstanding, by someone who won't accept the majority decision. Why else is he trying to, other than some publicity and I'm not sure what he's trying to achieve here," he said.

But Mr Laws said under the principles of local government, it should be honest, open and transparent.

"The principles of local government are being thrown out the window by an organisation determined to protect itself, not simply from public scrutiny but from media scrutiny and from it's own actions being scrutinised."

Mr Laws said when people read the report they would wonder what all the fuss was about.

"It's not like you're talking about major systemic failure or fault. It's not like people have done things completely wrong or have misused their authority or authorisation. It is not what I would consider to be anything other than some fairly minor transgressions, and 'you haven't observed best practice here'. But even in me telling you that, I'm breaking the law.

"You think that they're hiding the causes of World War 3, in this particular case it's almost inconsequential, but they are determined because they don't want their staff - collectively, not individually - to be embarrassed by what the review finds," he said.

Mr Laws said he would consider using the whistleblower legislation to release the report.