Editorial: Blunder brings positive publicity

By Scott Inglis

Who would have thought there would be drama with the TECT trustees election?

Usually this biennial event is a reasonably mundane affair and fails to make the front page.

At the last election fewer than one-third of the 54,739 eligible voters bothered to take part and even high-profile candidate Bill Holland says "a lot of people aren't interested at all".

But this time things are different. The election has made the front page.

More than 7000 votes have been ruled invalid after a blunder that will cost $80,000.

A TrustPower employee botched the collection of vital customer information and their work was never checked. That meant about 10,000 voting papers were sent to old or incorrect postal addresses. The election has been stopped and new voting papers will be sent out by the month's end.

TrustPower consumers should care about this organisation and its election.

The Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust, formed in 1993, is an important organisation in our community.

It has a staggering $753 million investment in TrustPower.

About 80 per cent of the trust's net earnings is given back to TrustPower consumers in the form of an annual cheque (more than $25 million was handed out last November), and the rest is given to community organisations.

Some of our biggest community assets have been helped by TECT, such as the rescue helicopter, the arena at Baypark, Waipuna Hospice and the all-terrain park on the outskirts of the district. Plenty of smaller non-profit organisations also benefit.

Six trustees govern the trust and are elected for four-year terms. Terms of appointment are staggered so three trustees retire every two years.

This year, Bruce Cronin, Mark Groos and Ken Collings retire but have put themselves up for re-election.

There can be no argument this mistake is major. But we all make mistakes.

The concern here is that such a serious systemic failure could happen given the size of the organisation and its responsibilities.

It seems amazing there were no independent checks made of this employee's work.

TrustPower, to its credit, has been up front, with its spokesman saying "we slipped up really badly". The company will also be paying the bill.

The returning officer has been at pains to explain that votes already cast are invalid and eligible voters need to use the new papers which will be sent out.

But therein lies a potential problem. Given there are so many people involved, there is the potential for people to miss this message or misunderstand it.

I was interested to see what candidates thought about all this but they are forbidden to make any public statements that undermine the integrity of the election process. I find this draconian and extremely undemocratic.

Mr Holland says of the blunder: "The irony is this could be the best thing for the elections."

He's right. This debacle has given this election publicity it might never have otherwise had.

It's important eligible voters exercise their rights.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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