Westland District Council making progress

The Minister of Local Government, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, has cautiously acknowledged the steps the Westland District Council is taking in response to her signalling her intention to install a Crown Observer.

The Minister wrote to the Council in July and September this year, expressing concern about poor processes, dysfunctional governance and management, non-compliance with policies, and natural hazard management. 

“The Council has heard the extent of the concerns raised and has taken steps to respond. Westland have demonstrated they are establishing governance committees to provide transparency of decision making, putting in systems and frameworks for policies and processes, and learning from past experience”. 

Recognizing the scale and nature of the issues, the Minister however has noted there is benefit from a level of oversight and has tasked an existing group to provide support to the Council to support necessary changes. This oversight group will provide assurance to her that the Council is operating transparently to achieve their responsibilities. 

The Department of Internal Affairs will chair the oversight group and work with other agencies to confirm a Terms of Reference. 

“They will provide valuable guidance to the Council and they can escalate significant problems to me if necessary. Given the steps taken by the Council, I am reassured they are on the right path to being a well performing Council,” says Nanaia Mahuta.

Frequently asked questions 

Why did the Minister consider appointing a Crown Observer in the first instance? 

  • Due to a number of issues being raised and the frequency at which they were occurring, the Minister was not confident in the effectiveness of the Council’s governance and management of local government business.
  • Under the Local Government Act 2002, intervention may be considered if there is a problem or potential for a problem of significance, as defined by section 256 of the Act.

Will the Minister intervene in the Council in the future? 

  • If a ‘significant problem’ occurs then the Minister will consider intervention. In the meantime, the Council will be closely monitored.

What if problems continue to arise? 

  • The Council must be responsible for resolving its own problems, as is the expectation of all councils in New Zealand. Should the Council be unable to resolve any issue, officials in the Department of Internal Affairs will work with the Council to find a resolution. However if a ‘significant problem’ should occur, then intervention will be considered.

If you are continuing to monitor the Council, then why not use intervention powers? 

  • The threshold to use intervention powers is necessarily high. Although problems still exist on the Council, they do not amount to a ‘significant problem,’ as defined by section 256 of the Act. Many Council’s around New Zealand suffer from similar issues.
  • Continued oversight of the Council does not have the same effect as the legislative powers that a Crown Observer has, but will help me monitor and support the Council.

Are you going to proactively release the briefings? 

  • The Department of Internal Affairs is working to publish the briefings on its website.