In late February TINZ commented on the parts of The Review into the Future of Local Government’s draft report He mata whāriki that aligned with our expertise and objectives.
TINZ contributes to conversation about local government democracy and integrity. Our most recent contribution was the free online learning resource for newly elected local body officials Transparency and Governance Roadtrip. It was sent out to 900 elected officials and 140 engaged with it.
Our submission’s overall call to action is that reform proposals should ensure greater transparency of decision-making with better access of voters and reporters to local democracy. We also advocated that form should follow function, and funding and accountability should underpin that principle.
Proposals in the report include supporting revitalisation of community participation, improving the relationship between central and local government, extending the elected period for Councillors from three to four years, and developing effective and enduring partnership with Māori. Also proposed is more oversight for training and standards setting of Council staff and elected officials.
Our key points are that:
- Form should follow function - a broader look at governance and services across all local authorities including regional authorities is needed, focusing on the functions provided and then which organisations are best suited to perform those functions.
- There should be greater use of deliberative and participatory democracy in local decision-making. There should also be funding for community led innovations to increase community understanding about the role of local government.
- There is insufficient focus in this report on how transparency is applied across local government. It is hugely variable and often not open, for example increasing use of Council 'workshops' to avoid public scrutiny.
- We are concerned about transparency gaps in areas such as procurement reporting, and in reporting by Council Controlled Organisations.
- There needs to be more focus in this report on the role of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA), and on proactive disclosure. Transparency is an essential foundation of revitalising citizen-led democracy.
- We fully support regular health checks of democratic performance.
- In our National Integrity System Assessment (NISA) we recommended that government should:
a. Initiate a national conversation on the constitutional place of local government
b. Develop a central government/local government protocol on the design and implementation of regulations where regulation-making powers have been delegated to local authorities.
There has been little action on these recommendations since the current NISA was first published in 2013 apart from updating a few guidelines.
- TINZ has seen gaps in local government broader leadership and standards setting, which suggests that some independent system stewardship function would be useful, particularly on matters such as ethical frameworks. A role similar to that of the Public Service Commissioner would be useful. It is clear from complaints to the Ombudsman and Auditor General that there is variability of capability across local government. This is another reason for increased stewardship.
- We support the Electoral Commission being given responsibility for overseeing the administration of local body elections.
- We support improved professional development and support programmes for elected members, this should include training in decision making on complex issues, on risk assessment, financial and infrastructure governance, debt management and investment.
- The vital role that civil society organisations across Aotearoa play in strengthening local government including holding power to account is not well addressed in the draft report.