Sunday, October 15, 2017

Auckland Council: Why this blood-sucking Dracula needs to be staked

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Brisbane City, which is normally compared to Auckland, has a population of 2.3 Million, has a staff of some 8,000, of whom, only 149 earn more than A$100,000.
Auckland City with some 1.4 Million people has a staff of 11,893, of whom, 2322 earn more than A$100,000 (with 49 earning over $300,000.)
What did Rodney Hide promise us with this monster-SUPER CITY?
Economies of scale, staff reductions, reduced debts, efficiency, better accountability, improved service?
And Auckland literally has a case where a Town (pun intended) is trying to run a Super City. The buck stops at CEO, and my article seeks many questions. 
Prime among them is, in a Third World City, Suva, we were miles better in financial discipline, staff management and providing effective service to ratepayers. Most importantly, we respected other people’s money. In comparison, Auckland is a bottomless-pit, just increase the rates.
Many heads would have rolled if Suva was as dysfunctional as Auckland. 
But in Auckland, the elected officials are the “dogs” who are wagged by the tails, the CEO and that bulging bureaucracy of overpaid unelected officials.
Auckland Council has degenerated into a Dracula sucking our blood, where Elected Officials have abdicated their promise to ratepayers, and have become lapdogs of the staff who run the show. 
This Dracula needs to be staked…read on
Contrary to initial optimism, Auckland Super City appears to have degenerated into an uncontrollable Frankenstein Monster- and a blood-sucking Dracula. Here, the elected representatives have been forced to abdicate their powers. Shots are called by the so called Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) and overpaid unelected bureaucrats. It is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. 

Rodney Hide created a monster, which has become a Dracula, sucking our blood. It needs to be staked to save us. Did Super city achieve economies of scale? Did we have reduced staff? Have wages deceased? Have services improved? Has borrowing reduced? Has spending reduced? What has Super City achieved? Isn't it time we killed this creature?
We have had so many complaints going to deaf ears. People took consolation from the fact that Mayor, Phil Goff would make a difference. Disappointingly, it appears he himself is intrigued by this monster and remains uninformed. 

NZ Herald of 5 October, 2017 made shocking reading:
One in five staff at Auckland Council is earning more than $100,000 as the wages bill for the Super City blows out for the third year in a row.
………..number of executives earning more than $200,000 has increased by 25 per cent in the past year, from 155 to 194….
 The council and its six council-controlled organisations (CCOs) employ 11,893 staff, of whom 2322 earn more than $100,000.
Brisbane City Council - often compared to Auckland Council - employs about 8000 staff, of whom 149 earn more than A$100,000.
 The advice I gave to Andrew Little when he took over from David Cunliffe was to remove dead-wood and ineffective Labour management team that had led to fall of their previous leaders. Unfortunately, he ignored it at his peril.

I have a feeling of déjà vu when giving a similar advice to Mayor Goff, a former Labour leader: Please clean up the mess you have inherited - please remove (read sack) the CEO and let him sign his redundancy cheque. 

Economies of scale, staff and salaries reduction, as aimed by a Super City has not been achieved. Almost 40 staff are paid over $300,000. At the same time, a city equal to, or larger than us, BRISBANE, has much fewer staff as well as only 149 paid above $100,000 compared to 2322 of ours. What do Council staff PRODUCE to warrant such pay? They only use OUR RATEPAYER money to overpay themselves. This table shows how out of control Auckland Council's pay has become. There has to to be a rethink of our pay-structure.
CEO is ultimately responsible for the lackadaisical performance, neglect of duties and busloads of ratepayer dissatisfaction. If CEO of Fonterra creams up the company for how well it does, similarly, CEO of Auckland Council deserves the guilt and blame of ignored sewers and a growing dysfunctional monster.

As a former Director Administration and Operations at Suva City Council (second to CEO) I am bewildered by lack of accountability, dereliction of duties, shoddy communication channels, sloppy financial discipline and abdication of power by the elected Councillors to bureaucrats who have overpaid themselves.

People who voted in Mayor Phil Goff were optimistic that he will make a difference. One year on the job, he seems not to know what is happening, and seems to be informed about dysfunction in the Council via media. This author's experience at Suva City Council shows that heads would have rolled if such dereliction of duties of the CEO and Mayor were seen in a Third World Fiji. We all are disappointed. 
Auckland Council needs to learn protocols and managerial discipline from Suva City, a Third World Local government. Our CEO and Council Staff held the elected Councillors in high esteem, even feared them. The Mayor, CEO, Senior Executives and all relevant parties were in constant touch, operated on same frequency and were always well-informed. We were modestly paid, in fact lower than private sector. Our Councillors received minimal per diem, but were always in control. They held CEO (and staff) and the Mayor accountable. And the CEO kept the Mayor continuously informed. Most important, we diligently practised financial discipline – and respected ratepayer money.

Those in the ivory tower need to come down to earth to see how we ratepayers feel about an out-of control Auckland Council.  A time has to come when people will call for action from Government to make Auckland Council more accountable to its ratepayers. Perhaps time has come for Government to review operations, effectiveness and efficiency of Auckland Council.
Auckland Council need to learn from Fijians. Do we have effective Human Resources, Finance and other relevant committees? And do the Councillors in relevant Committees know what is going on? Why we have such a big mess? Why deviation from budgets and objectives? Do they have one-to -one weekly or monthly meetings with CEO and Mayor to ensure things are moving according to budget, plans, and objectives? Do we have credible and effective communication channels?

This article is not written by an over-paid Council’ communication staff or a consultant. This is done by a migrant who was rejected to add colour to Council’s Communications department. Why the Mayor learns about Council dysfunction from the media? And who advised the Mayor that the flooding in New Lynn was due to global warming? You need not be a rocket scientist to know if a month’s rain fell in one hour, no Council reticulation system can handle this Act of God. It seems I need to hold a training session for Council’s wanting Communication department!
Weekend Herald (7.10.17) tells of blatant mismanagement of senior management pay, spiralling out of control. In three years to 2017, we saw 25 % increase in Auckland Council, 21.5% in Auckland Transport and eye-watering 89% in ATEED. This was when inflation was running below 2%. Heads would have rolled if this had happened in Suva.
In contrast, the biggest saving of 20% was made by Watercare, which is headed by a migrant Fijian, Raveen Jaduram. It shows the benefits of employing people with wider international exposure from Third World Countries. They value limited resources, have tendency to be miser and possess better appreciation of other people’s money. This can only happen in an environment where cronies, people from old school-boys club, political connections and other social contacts do not access rear entry to executive, boards and other key positions. Unfortunately, migrants like me lack opportunities of such backdoor entries.

Auckland Council is still considered a white institution, The Mayor agrees that some 40% of Aucklanders are born outside of Auckland. Is this reflected in either the makeup of the Governing body of its staff make-up? Statistics speak quite the opposite. Wonder how many in this picture represent those 40%!
NZ Herald recently reported on the colour of the Council - it is still very White. And there is no ethnic or brown (read Maori) executive up to second tier of the whole organisation. Ironically Mayor Goff admitted in Q+ A (8.10.17) that 40 per cent of Aucklanders are born out of New Zealand. I wonder whether that is reflected in the makeup of the Council and its staffing.


  • Remove CEO for lack of performance. 
  • Give powers back to elected representatives.
  • Freeze pay and staff-intake
  • Undertake staffing and pay structure, in line with similar overseas comparatives. (Brisbane)
  • Terminate contract of top executives, to re-apply. 
  • Review internal reporting, communication channels and financial discipline.
  • Set up proper measurable KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), linking pay increases against stringent measures.

Failing this, the incoming government should institute Section 10 of Local Government Act 2002, and seek Ministerial invention, even to appoint Crown Review Team or Manager. 

Please new Minister for Local Government-tell your officers to brush up Section 10 of Local Government Act 2002, and put up a case to you why you should not call up Auckland Council to provide special answers from concerned ratepayers, in particular, FIJI PUNDIT. Fijians are now ridiculing this First World Local government to learn accountability and financial discipline from Suva City Council. Please stake this Dracula-Auckland Council, before it sucks more of our blood.
We ratepayers are fed up. We call the Government to put a stake through the heart of this Dracula, created by Rodney Hide. It has grown too fat, gone out of control, and is fast sucking our blood.

Please Minister, free us from this misery!

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political observer, a media commentator and journalist. He runs his blog, FIJI PUNDIT, and lives in Auckland]

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