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Kaipara victims of government non-performance

I'm surprised by the comprehensive acknowledgment of fault by the Auditor General, but not by its existence. We looked closely at this situation at the request of Colin Craig, among others.

In our opinion, the ratepayers had a strong case to compel the government to meet a substantial part of the costs otherwise falling on Kaipara ratepayers. But the group we advised did not proceed with their action when a Mangawhai-based group launched in court.

For reasons that escape us but which may some day be explained, the legal actions have focused largely away from where the money might come. We've never seen the point of seeking declarations of the obvious – including the invalidities that Parliament is currently remedying.

Now it may be too late to seek more effective remedies, but in our opinion the Auditor General protests too much when she says that the Audit Office defaults were not causative because the damage was done.

"I have acknowledged that, with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been appropriate to reconsider the situation more fully in late 2011, in light of the renewed correspondence from ratepayers and the additional information emerging from KDC. If we had done so, this inquiry might have begun a few months earlier."

However, that would not have changed what happened, because the wastewater scheme was already built and operating. An inquiry cannot undo the cumulative results of years of poor decision-making.

None of our reservations about Kaipara ratepayer tactics detract from recognition that this is a stunning vindication of several determined Kaipara people, and in particular of whistle-blower Clive Boonham.

Instead of snarling at the incompetent office-holders of the Kaipara District Council, the Audit Office watch-dogs were inside fawning on them.  How secure are our traditions of incorruptibility, and accountability, when the watchers are asleep or lickspittles?

Stephen Franks is principal of Wellington commercial and public law firm Franks and Ogilvie.