The powers of general competence in local and regional government
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Local Government Bill before parliament relates to the increase in power given to local government to be involved in a wide range The functions of local government have changed dramatically in recent times. This new Bill should it become law will allow local government to enter into areas previously the domain of central government. Unless the rural sector becomes involved in Local government either through standing for office or being actively involved in decision making, there exists the potential for an increasingly large financial burden to fall on landowners. of activities. This power has been termed the "Powers of General Competence" and allows councils to be involved in any lawful activity. The emphasis is on local decision making, rather than the imposition of limitation by central government. The rural ratepayer comprises an electoral minority of 6%, but pays an estimated 20% of total rates because the rating system is based on capital or land value. Therefore any increase in local council activity will have a major financial impact on the rural sector. Under this Bill, local government is required to undertake an extensive consultative process before making major decisions. Such a consultative process could be seen as "participatory democracy". However in the absence of binding referenda the decision making remains "representative". An overwhelming number of submissions against a proposal does not necessarily ensure a participatory outcome. The requirement for an open consultative process and a full disclosure of information becomes problematical in a private/public partnership. Successful private enterprise often relies upon commercially sensitive information remaining confidential. The partnership between six Canterbury councils and a private waste management company, is an example of a consultative process which was inadequate and has largely left the local community powerless. When the consent process under the Resource Management Act began, the participating councils received 7,000 submissions opposing the landfill. There were only 17 in favour. The details of the agreement, which committed the local council to the venture,was signed before the document was available to the public. The Resource management process is only concerned with whether the landfill will meet the requirements of the Act, not as to whether the community wanted to participate in the partnership in the first instance. The ultimate control by the community over the local government body lies in the democratic process. The policy makers can be voted out if the community does not agree with their policies.. The issue of governance and the importance of the democratic process are detailed in the Proposed Bill. However a report written by the Controller and Auditor General in 2002 indicates that the difference between governance and management roles within local government is the area least understood by both staff and elected members. The governance and management issue within the Canterbury Regional council was publicly aired early this year when a staff member changed a policy direction during a court hearing. If the elected members are allowing staff to make policy, then the democratic process is not working.... [Show full abstract]
Keywordsgeneral competence; local government; regional government; Local Government Bill; governance; democratic process
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