New QLDC Ombudsman documents define problems and provide solutions

by Peter Newport - Feb 16, 2024


First of all, thanks to all of our readers who took the time to read the detailed timeline of our investigation into the Queenstown Lakes District Council. We set out to discover three really clear sets of information:

  • How does our local council control expenditure of our money - well over $100 million each year?
  • Do they stick to their spending rules and controls?
  • If not, why not, and on who’s authority?

If you did not have the time to read our main investigation piece, then feel free to read this piece first and then check our evidence afterwards.

In a break from the tone of our coverage so far, we’d like to offer some genuine community-focussed thoughts on how trust in our council can be restored.

The bottom line is that the senior managers at the Queenstown Lakes District Council did not follow their own spending rules. We now know that this was not an accident – it was deliberate.

We also now know that the council’s chief executive and his communications team did everything possible to prevent the community and news media finding out about the non-compliant expenditure.

And finally, we can see through recent documents and projects that the culture that produced these events has not changed.

The solution lies not with us as journalists but you as community members and ratepayers.

All we can do is publish the facts and give them context. That’s our job. We think the facts in this case speak for themselves. Only community action can make a real difference.

If you want the QLDC to deliver on their high-profile claims of transparency, delivering value for money, and accountability, then you need to communicate your views direct to your councillors, to the mayor and to the QLDC’s chief executive. It’s their job to listen to you and act on any concerns you may have.

All we would ask is that you focus on one vital commodity – truth.

It is what we teach our kids, and it needs to be at the foundation of how we relate to each other as a community – in business, in sport, in work, in volunteering, in everything. Before we can trust each other there needs to be truth and we hope that in publishing our work we can make some contribution to that mission.

Of course, truth can and does involve perspective. The QLDC can and should continue to explain its actions to the community. We might call that spin or PR or marketing or comms, but the council is 100 percent entitled to present its own perspective on what it does.

Where things have gone wrong is that, in the belief that there are no real consequences in failing to the respect the facts, the QLDC has given in to the temptation to twist and deny those facts. That leaves both the community and news media in trouble as the QLDC is virtually the only source we have when it comes to how they spend money and how they make decisions.

There’s no reason for our council staff not to tell us the truth. That’s all they need to do in order to win our trust. And if changes are required to deliver that truth, then lets please get on with it and make those changes.

In the words of the council’s own communications manager, “The current strategy is not working”.

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