On January 28, 1986 the space shuttle Challenger broke apart less than two minutes into its 10th mission taking the lives of all seven people aboard.

The commission created by President Reagan to investigate the cause of the disaster found that the failure of an O ring led to structural failure of the vehicle and also strongly criticised the decision making process that led to the launch going ahead despite concerns being raised by the contractor responsible for O rings, Morton Thiokol.

The psychological phenomenon commonly called "Groupthink" was identified as a major factor. Irving Janis, a psychologist at Yale University is credited with introducing the concept when his book Victims of Groupthink was published in 1972.

According to Janis Groupthink happens when a group makes faulty decisions due to the desire to maintain conformity and harmony. Alternative views are suppressed and anyone criticising the decisions are marginalised and dehumanised.


Janis identified a number of ways for decision makers to avoid Groupthink. They include, among others; allow members to be "critical evaluators" so they can express contrary views without sanction; leaders should allow members plenty of opportunity to discuss matters without their presence so they don't dominate; effective alternatives should be evaluated; at least one member should be appointed "devil's advocate" and the role should move between members.

I suspect the HB Regional Investment Company (HBRIC) is not acquainted with these ideas.

If it had adopted these suggested patterns of behaviour I doubt I would have had to witness the dismal spectacle of our regional council writing off over $14 million of HBRIC debt.

Whilst not privy to the private meetings of HBRIC, the public appearances of HBRIC leaders at HBRC meetings were laced with hubris and blind optimism.

The failure of HBRIC to gain access to the land needed for the RWSS before committing nearly $20 million of ratepayer money to the failed scheme smacks of Groupthink. Those regional councillors that continued at every opportunity to advance money to HBRIC without the land swap being settled must accept a large measure of responsibility for the enormous waste of ratepayer money.

Then HBRIC chief executive Andrew Newman advised councillors that the Forest & Bird challenge was just a delaying tactic without legal foundation. How wrong he was.

The chances of recovering any value from the RWSS wreckage is very slight indeed. For the scheme to go ahead any time in the future would require a law change to be implemented retrospectively, something that goes against good governance conventions and I suspect would even cause disquiet amongst some National MPs. Councillor Hewitt's firm belief that the RWSS will one day be completed exemplifies the disconnect with reality that has plagued the whole RWSS debacle.

I believe that HBRIC has been a dismal failure. That it will continue to spend over $100,000 a year (from Napier Port income) on the RWSS for many years to come is salt to the wound.

That the chief executive who presided over this mammoth failure was paid handsomely for his departure is, I believe, just plain wrong.

Clint Deckard is an education & libraries IT consultant and stood unsuccessfully for the CHB District Council last local election.
Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz