Archives for posts with tag: conflict of interest

While I was off-duty last weekend, my friend and some-time contributor to this site Barnaby Bennett wrote a blog about Gerry Brownlee, listing ten good reasons why he should go. After sharing it on Facebook, it led to two City Councillors getting themselves in a spot of bother by passing it around too. One of Barnaby’s main points was this: why are we putting control of the organisation that is tasked with cleaning up the mess in central Christchurch in the hands of the man who was in charge of the organisations that created the mess? That is effectively the situation with Regenerate Christchurch – the CCDU by another name. Barnaby’s blog post documents the miss-steps made by the minister, and argues that any new organisation should not be put in his control.

There could be no clearer demonstration of Brownlee’s unsuitability for the role than this story from yesterday:

Since 2012, Brownlee has hosted drinks in Christchurch the week before the All Blacks play a test in the city, inviting members of the media, business and sports communities. The event was sponsored by Fletcher Construction; the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) managed the invitations.

Just last week, Brownlee announced that Fletcher Residential has won the tender to lead the $800m East Frame project. And yet, Brownlee seems to think that to suggest there was a link between Fletcher hosting a free piss up for him and a group of media and business people, hand-picked by him is some sort of conspiracy theory. We’re not talking about chemtrails or lizard people here. We’ve got the company who has got a bunch of the biggest government contracts regularly throwing a party for the minister who gives out those contracts. Imagine, if you can, the CTU throwing a party for a Labour Minister, who then goes and introduces something akin to a responsible health and safety legislation. The right would blow a gasket.

CERA has given out billions of dollars in contracts, and that’s what they’re meant to do. But due to the Byzantine structure of CERA, and the paucity of investigative journalists* in this city, it is very difficult for anyone to find out anything about how those jobs have been allocated. For Brownlee to throw a tanty about this shows just how unsuited he is for a role that will increasingly require complex negotiations between a series of organisations that don’t necessarily share the same interests. This man is not fit for that role. Or, as MvB put it:

It is simply not a good look to have the party garnering the major slice of rebuild business funding entertainment for the minister that has the most influence over the very decisions that deliver the business in the first place.

Brownlee should hardly be surprised at the turn of events and should not act hurt and indignant just because he has been called out.

If Brownlee insists that he has done nothing wrong, then why did he cancel the party? I guess we’ll never know, as he has gone into his usual sulk and is refusing to answer questions from the media:

A spokesman for Mr Brownlee said he would not be commenting and was not under any “statutory obligation” to answer Radio New Zealand’s questions.

It’s simply unacceptable for a Minister to continue to behave like this.

* I know there are good journalists in this city trying their hardest to get to the bottom of what is happening at CERA. But there just aren’t enough of them. And I’ve talked to some of them in the past who were genuinely psyched to go to this party in previous years. Gerry is the most powerful man in the city, by some distance. It’s like getting an audience with Caligula. So even if they were joking, I was saddened to see tweets like this:

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They’re one of our societies most maligned groups, never asking for anything, never getting the breathless media coverage they so clearly think they deserve. But the property developers of Central Christchurch are going to the public this winter, to ask for your money to help them to realise their dreams of seeing their egos manifest in glass and concrete. Yes, that’s right – if you’re a taxpayer or a ratepayer, or even better, both! – these old, white, rich men want your money to help fund their vanity projects. That’s right, for a just the price of a cup of coffee, you could be helping one of Christchurch’s monied elite to construct the convention centre you didn’t ask for, or the retail centre you’ll never be able to afford to visit. Don’t delay, donate now!

Yesterday, as the council debated the budget, and headed towards an asset sell-off we’ve been told is a the only way to balance the books, they also found time to relieve property developers of the contributions they provide to council. This move was led – of course – by Cr Gough, the nephew of one of the main benefactors of this change, Anthony Gough:

Cr Jamie Gough, who led the push to scrap the development contributions, said effectively the council was making the central city a “DC-free zone”.

It was signalling it would “never be cheaper than it is today” to build in central Christchurch.

I’m sure Jamie knows this, so it doesn’t really need repeating, but the main reason why it is prohibitively expensive to build in central Christchurch is that the cost of land is so high, because the government used the Blueprint to buy up land and artificially limit land supply. This was what the developers wanted – but now they are complaining that the costs are too high. The Blueprint was a document that gave a small group of influential developers what they wanted (government intervention to prevent the collapse of central city land values, and thus the collapse of their property portfolios), and now they have successfully lobbied for a broke council to scrap one of their much-needed income sources.

But wait! There’s more!

Clearly feeling emboldened by the Council rolling over and letting them scratch their bellies, these brave developers are now demanding money from the Crown for delays to the Convention Centre:

City Owners Rebuild Entity (Core) spokesman Ernest Duval said the more the project was delayed, the more money would be needed. There was a natural increase in construction costs of about 8 per cent a year, he said, “It will cost more simply to build the exact same thing that was planned in 2013 because of rising construction costs.”

The government is already pouring at least $284m into something that no-one asked for and many have questioned whether we need. While there have been delays, we still haven’t seen a business case for the project. We don’t know how it’s going to operate. Instead of ploughing good money into a giant hole the size of two city blocks, it makes sense to wait. But these asshole developers know a sweet deal when they see one, and feel like they might as well try their luck at the Taxpayer ATM. For a bunch of people convinced that the free market will fix the central city, they aren’t too proud to repeatedly milk the public teat for money. These winklepickered parasites need to jump in their Maseratis and take a long drive on a long road out of this town. We will survive without them. There are plenty of good people who can rebuild this city without repeatedly blackmailing the place they’re claiming to save.

Same shit, different day. Jamie Gough wants rates relief for central city developers. While I think this is an idea that is worth discussing, it should be discussed by someone other than Gough. I don’t want to be a stuck record, but once again: Gough’s family are major property developers in the central city; this is legislation that would directly benefit Gough and his family; this is a conflict of interest, pure and simple.

As one of the developers in the story mentions, rates relief wouldn’t be needed if the land prices weren’t so high. The taxpayer spend up on land has kept those prices far higher than can be justified for a patch of gravel – and now this councillor is advocating another form of subsidy for property developers. Screw over the taxpayer, then screw over the ratepayer.

This morning, Tim Carter was in the paper talking about asset sales to pay for buildings that have been included in the blueprint. I am not going to get into a debate about the pros and cons of asset sales at this point – I covered that yesterday, and others have done similar – but I wanted to question whether there is a conflict of interest around this. Tim Carter is the son of former councillor, Philip Carter. Philip Carter is a keen supporter of the blueprint, as it has given him somewhat favourable treatment. Carter owns part of the site in Cathedral Square that has been marked down for the convention centre project. It seems as though he will also be given a concession to be able to build two hotels, adjacent to the convention centre, which are taller the central city height limit that other developers will have to abide by.

The Carter Group … owns the condemned former Government Life building west of Cathedral Square and at the southern end of the proposed convention centre site in the central-city recovery blueprint. The project allows for two interconnected hotels that will cater for up to 2000 delegates, and the centre will be able to host three conferences simultaneously.

So Philip Carter will benefit from the convention centre, both by having his land bought for the project, and by being able to build hotels adjacent, which will directly benefit from convention goers. All this considered, should Tim Carter be advocating for the council to sell assets to fund a project that benefits his family? How can the Press report this story without mentioning this quite clear connection, or do we just not care about this sort of cosiness in the rebuild? Or, alternatively, should we believe that Tim and Philip Carter are the only family in Christchurch that don’t inevitably talk about the rebuild over dinner?

Some interesting points have been raised here by Peter Taylor, who is a council candidate in the Hagley-Ferrymead ward. Peter is raising concern about property developer Tim Carter’s run for council, and outlines many of the concerns that I share. Carter was running for council before the earthquake, and I had concerns about him then; now, with so much of the city up for grabs, I am very wary about having a councillors who have significant property interests. Another such council candidate is Jamie Gough. Do we want a city run by property developers, for property developers, or a city run by the people, for the people?