Thursday, April 25, 2024

AG publishes note for councillors with financial interests in plans

The Auditor-General last week issued declarations under section 6 of the Local Authorities (Members’ Interests) Act 1968 to several Councillors at Otago Regional Council, the details of which have now been published publicly in a note on the OAG website.

The Councillors have a financial interest in freshwater planning decisions, and had applied for declarations to enable them to participate in discussions and decisions relating to ORC’s new Land and Water Regional Plan.

In deciding the applications, the Office of the Auditor-General found that:

  • the new Plan is a significant planning instrument that will affect the whole region, so it should be developed with each constituency effectively represented;
  • the new Plan will have a financial effect on farmers that is more than remote or insignificant;
  • the new Plan will affect individual farmers differently, so a farmer’s financial interest in the new Plan is not an interest in common with members of the public; and
  • the effect of the new Plan on co-operative companies and industrial and provident societies is not certain. A small number of shares in those kinds of entities does not, on its own, give a person more than a remote or insignificant financial interest in the new Plan.

The declarations applied only to the Councillors’ financial interests in the new Plan. They don’t apply to any non-financial conflicts of the interest the Councillors may have, the Auditor-General said in a statement.

The Ministry for the Environment notes that all regional councils and unitary authorities need to have amended freshwater policy statements and plans notified by the end of 2024 and operational by 2026.

For the benefit of other councils whose members might have financial interests in freshwater planning decisions, the OAG note sets out the Office’s key findings in more detail; and provides a checklist of information to include in an application about a plan change.

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