Today's Hawke's Bay Regional Council meeting will be asked to release $80 million in public monies towards construction of the Ruataniwha dam, before the appeals process ends and before so-called "financial close"; and if they agree - as seems likely - that will be a one-fingered salute of literally monumental proportions to the people of the Bay and to democracy.

Bad enough it's a "council controlled" arm's-length investment company (HBRIC) doing the asking. Worse that any elected councillor would think they act in the public interest by sanctioning what I believe is gerrymandering of their elected responsibilities.

The merits of the scheme aside, to breach process in this way is indefensible, though cynics might say it merely confirms an open secret: this irrigation scheme will go ahead regardless of fact, effect, or result.

It will go ahead because, like the dozen other such schemes in progress around the country, it is driven from the highest level. Increasing primary production through intensification via irrigation has been ordained as the means to improve economic performance, regardless of whether it's actually profitable or of how many relative smallholders go broke attempting to keep up.


Don't mention environmental effects. Government barely does; the best they can manage are hollow promises about "trying" to ensure there is no further degradation of our land and waterways.

But by putting intensification in pursuit of real or imaginary profits ahead of environmental protection (let alone enhancement) - which National do, having amended the RMA to say so - there is then no justification they can spout that can conceal this.

That applies locally with HBRC as much as anywhere, and to its "five for" pro-dam councillors.

Former HBRC chairman Alan Dick has clearly been in politics far too long if he cannot recall reading or debating the Auditor-General's report on fellow-councillor Debbie Hewitt's pecuniary interest two days before denying said report agreed she had one - but exempted her on the thin pretext of being the only CHB member at the table.

As for the Minister of Finance, Mr Dick may not have met Bill English directly as I suggested last week, but it is clear the Minister was influenced to think Napier Port could be sold to pay for the RWSS.

The facts are a briefing paper which was produced on October 29, 2009 to advise Associate Minister of Infrastructure Steven Joyce ahead of meeting with Mr Dick on October30, and also circulated to Bill English for him to note. English was not only Minister of Finance, but of Infrastructure; Joyce's direct boss, in other words. It is highly unlikely they did not afterward discuss Mr Dick's visit.

Certainly, as contained in an aide-memoire for English as Infrastructure Minister dated December 12, 2010, Treasury's impression was stated thus: "We understand that the Council has also already given consideration to possible funding sources, including the sale of its equity in the port".

If that impression did not come from the chairman of the authority concerned, from whence did it come - and why would another's view be preferred?


Fast forward to today, and is it any surprise if the council continues to speak and act in a undemocratic fashion. They have no electoral mandate to sell (and a loan against an asset is a mortgage, and a mortgage can be sold, Cr Scott note) any part of the port.

To go beyond a supposedly-sacrosanct process and agree to fund the scheme before the "must have" boxes are properly ticked would be nothing short of contemptuous.

And, dear readers, it is you, the citizens and ratepayers of Hawke's Bay, for whom your council would be expressing its contempt.

- Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet. All opinions expressed here are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.