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A few minutes into this presentation, the Mayor’s cronies interrupted with spurious points-of-order. They were all upheld the Mayor to prevent criticism of the draft Annual Plan. And then a time limit was arbitrarily imposed.

Read what was suppressed by the ruling elite before they voted 8-3 to support what has been pushed by officials for the last eight months.

Your Worship and fellow councillors. Many of you will know the pepeha that asks and answers a question: He aha te mea nui o te ao? What is the most important thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It’s the people, the people, the people.

So, to what extent does the proposed Annual Plan before us respond to the interests of the people? It’s deeply saddening to me that the standout feature of the Annual Planning process has been the unwillingness of Council to give top priority to the affordability of any rates rise to ratepayers, he tangata.

You will all recall, in November last year, when I traced how the definition of the affordability of rates to ratepayers had been progressively modified in the Annual Plans since 2013. It ceased being a planning issue of significance. It was redefined as the amount that had to be afforded by ratepayers to support Council’s priorities.

That definition is back to front. It contradicts the pepeha that reminds us that the people’s interests are the most important consideration, not Council which is a service organisation. But that back to front definition is now used to justify the Council’s annual demands for even more rates and even more debt to support their expansionism.

Since 2013 Council’s expansionism has galloped ahead of inflation and the CPI-indexed benefits that sustain the poor, mostly Maori, and the elderly. The Annual Plan before us follows the same trends and continues to hit the poorest the hardest. But with the impact of Covid, it means, quite literally, that he tangata can’t afford this Council.

Fellow councillors. Are Crs Bentley, Kumar, and I just ‘lone wolves’ howling at the moon? Our persistent request for a rates freeze or cuts not only reflects the views of the 663 current members and associates of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers, but also most of the 5,000 friends and 2,329 followers we have on our Facebook.

Allowing for overlap, this group of he tangata is at least 40% of those that voted in the last mayoral election. After Te Arawa nui tonu, the RDRR is the largest organized interest group in the rohe. And like Te Arawa nui tonu, it keeps growing steadily.

Our message about the Annual Plan is simple. Long before Covid we asked for a rates freeze or cuts to stop the runaway debt and wasteful spending, and for a more inclusive approach to planning and budgeting to bring he tangata together and to restore some reality to our slogan; tatau tatau.

Both requests were denied. But with the onset of Covid we intensified those requests because many of he tangata, their whanau and businesses are struggling or closing, and they resent being ignored. So they ask; He aha te mea nui o te ao?

Fellow councillors, if you think I exaggerate, please read the posts and comments at our Facebook page, especially how people have responded in recent days to Grahame Hall’s comprehensive evaluation of the leadership of the Annual Planning process.

The point is that more and more of he tangata are seeing good reason to question the nature and consequences of the Annual Planning process. Had they been allowed to participate in the public-excluded workshops and briefings over the last eight months they would have been amazed as I and others were by the blunt refusal of the current administration to reconsider basic directions and to improve the quality of decision making, especially after Covid-19 impacted. 

The assumptions embedded in Vision 2030 are now obviously obsolete. But they live on as false justifications for continued borrowing and extravagant spending – because it will, allegedly, result in progress and prosperity for he tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

But wait. Council’s general direction and approach since 2013 has not purchased progress for he tangata in advance of national average growth rates. Infometrics data show that we have been steadily falling behind.  So why would anyone believe that a failed approach will suddenly buy progress in the year ahead? It won’t because it can’t.

Logically, we need a fresh vision, a fresh approach, a fresh plan and a fresh budget to respond to the dramatically different situation that he tangata face. If we put them first.

The financial reality is that the latest draft Annual Plan and budget is based on a cargo cult mentality. The Council, heading for about $250 million of debt and vastly over committed to multiple pet projects, is now utterly dependent on the promises made by pork-barrelling politicians being honoured after the General Election on September 19. This means that the draft Annual Plan and budget for 2020-21 before us is going to have to be revised in nine weeks’ time.

Fellow councilors, those nine weeks would be well spent modelling and budgeting a fresh approach for 2020-21 around the dramatically reducedaffordability of rates to he tangata. But only if we put them first. How?

Above all, our people, all of our people, need to know that their pain is being heard, felt and shared in a context of authentic not fake whanaungatanga. In a context where GDP is predicted to fall by about 9% over the coming year, at least, and employment and disposable incomes to fall by similar percentages, he tangata need to know that current leaders and senior officials have warmly endorsed  our Prime Minister’s leadership and taken pay cuts or made commensurate donations to help the worst affected.

Second, in those nine weeks, we councillors need to help officials to reinterpret the diverse views of those who have made submissions about the draft Annual Plan. It is no longer plausible for senior officials to adopt a doctrine of bureaucratic infallibility and to recommend no change to direction and approach when given such diverse feedback. Most importantly, if we do put he tangata first, with a rates freeze or cuts, it will help generate a vision, an approach, a fresh Annual Plan and a fresh budget that he tangata can believe in.

Third, in those nine weeks, we will need to come to terms with the scale of the revenue shortfall, use it to cut back on expenditure with old fashioned cost compression, and please, we need to avoid the often suicidal tactic of borrowing to pay for operational expenditure.

Fourth, in those nine weeks we can review priorities and projects to give infrastructure top priority. We can confront the long-term debt crisis and develop a debt reduction strategy with those expected to carry the burden in the future; he tangata me nga mokopuna.

Fifth, in those nine weeks we can rethink the increasingly expensive but ongoing outsourcing of management responsibilities. Outsourcing management lost a great deal of credibility at the most recent Wastewater Treatment System Hearings. Prior to that RDRR realized that we have been trapped by outsourcing management contracts that help prevent reforms to parking and the Aquatic Centre. Unwinding those decisions can now be costed and possibly become an option for the Annual Plan or the next Long Term Plan.

To summarize, the Annual Plan and budgeting process has been, in my view and experience, corrupted by an unwillingness on Council to respect and engage with those who want to speak to the pain being endured by residents and ratepayers, he tangata.

That includes many of you here today. You will know that residents and ratepayers living in Rotorua are experiencing, in general, about a 9% drop in their disposable incomes and quality of life due to Covid, and now potentially face another 4% increase on their rates, as well as suffer an inequitable distribution of the impact.

So fellow councillors, please allow me to end with four requests.

Tahi. Let’s acknowledge the pain of he tangata by asking our planners to develop a new Plan B in the next nine weeks, starting with a rates freeze or cuts. It should accept that a fall in Council’s revenue, not just rates, should be used a benchmark for cost compression to avoid additional expenditure and inflation that will add to the burden that he tangata are already enduring.

Rua. Let’s accept that while debt is the most flexible tool available to financial planners, especially in the context of a depression, can we please also accept the evidence that, since 2013, hiking rates by over 30% and running up debt to about $260 million has not delivered the growth and prosperity that was promised to outpace national averages.

Not only have we gradually slipped behind the rest of the country since 2013, but continuing this financial strategy in a depression will more or less double the speed at which we will fall behind.

Toru. Let’s respond to the fickle ‘drip feed’ of national funding decisions up until 19 September by asking our planners to only consider short-term additional bridging debt in a context of a new wider debt reduction strategy, but also to rescale and reschedule projects to accelerate the switching of Council’s investment into infrastructure.

Wha. Let’s commit to a culture of inclusive problem solving that values authentic consultations of all elected representatives and stakeholders, our collaborative analysis of feedback from he tangata, and generating fresh priorities on the common ground through real debate rather than cutting the outsiders off and winning by numbers.

No reira, by ending wasteful and divisive adversarialism we can weather the pandemic together, restore a sense of unity, and through reinventing all and new sectors of our economy, we can deliver real growth and prosperity to our whanau and businesses.

As the pepeha puts it, the most important thing to us must be he tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

No reira e hoa ma, kia ora, kia ora tatau.


Reynold Macpherson