Thursday, 23 February 2017

First (and probably only) casualty in Hawkes Bay

We heard today that Hawkes Bay Regional Council Chief Executive, Andrew Newman, has "resigned". For Havelock North and other Hawkes Bay residents who are looking for accountability over the Havelock North gastro outbreak, Newman's departure may be the nearest they get to satisfaction.

Make no mistake: regardless of how it is dressed up Newman has been persuaded to leave. He was always on shaky ground since last year's local body elections. He has been a driver of the Ruataniwha water storage and irrigation scheme for some time. But last year's election tipped the balance on the Council away from the scheme. So instead of having the backing of the elected members Newman was now on the wrong side. He either had to leave or diplomatically pull his head in. He did neither.

HBRC Chair, Rex Graham, is claiming the departure stems from differences over the Ruataniwha scheme but I think there is more to it than that. The nail in the coffin was Newman's extraordinary and unilateral decision to prosecute Hasting District Council over a peripheral matter related to the gastro outbreak. Newman committed the cardinal sin for a local government staffer of taking a sensitive decision with huge public risk attached to it without getting the go ahead from the elected members.

I have no idea why Newman exercised such poor judgement but the prosecution and the investigation that preceded the prosecution showed evidence of a witch hunt. The HBRC investigation into the cause of the gastro outbreak (not their job and they have no expertise in the area but they did it anyway) was completely one-sided. It very much looks like HBRC wanted to blame HDC from the very start and only collected what evidence they needed to support a prosecution. Why would they do that? The Inquiry only needed the various parties to turn up with copies of their records; no-one needed to conduct investigations.

I can only assume that HBRC really wanted to deflect attention from their own failings. It is possible that HBRC did not do enough to protect the groundwater source that HDC relied on or had their attention so diverted by the Ruataniwha scheme proposal that they neglected important scientific work in other parts of the region.

We have more important evidence to be given on the Mangateretere Pond as a source of contaminated water. And then we may know little more about who knew what and when and whether you assign blame to any organisation or person. I suspect we will not have any clear accountability; that we have a systemic error. That being the case take Mr Newman's "resignation" as the price he has paid for HBRC's contribution to the gastro outbreak.

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