Editorial: Process, integrity under study

Last updated 05:00 06/11/2012

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OPINION: We welcome the inquiry into Environment Southland's compliance process - and that it's going to be made public.

Disturbing features emerge from the two cases highlighted by The Southland Times and judging from the response that we've had from other trucking companies and farmers there are likely to be more stories of similar vein.

The first incident we highlighted, where a written report by senior police constable Anthony Vincent was later altered by ES staff and then presented to the court, raises serious questions.

If this was meant to be a joint exercise between the police and Environment Southland it would be reasonable to expect that if the council's compliance officer had seen effluent leaking from this stock truck he would have pointed it out to the constable.

You would expect that they would discuss it, then make the changes if it was considered appropriate to do so.

But no.

Nothing was said to Mr Vincent.

At some later time the compliance officer, Chris McMillan, has changed the document and produced photographs purporting to show the truck that they stopped, with effluent running down the side of it.

In the second, unrelated incident, the same compliance officer, in a statement prepared as part of a summary of facts for the court, indicated that he had interviewed a twice-charged farmer about both incidents, when in fact - as became clear when the officer was cross-examined in court - he hadn't even raised the supposed second incident with him.

Continued enforcement to protect our environment is essential.

But this needs to be done in a way that is scrupulously fair to all concerned.

Environment Southland's chief executive, Rob Phillips, makes the point himself that everyone needs to be confident that compliance action is based on sound processes that have been carried out with integrity.

Agreed.

And for this reason the inquiry needs to be conducted with rigour and insight and scrutinised on the same basis.

The council says it will make public the results of this audit.

Many Southlanders, especially those in the rural communities, will await this with acute interest.

They shouldn't have to wait long as the process begins this week and is expected to take about a fortnight.

Environment Southland has been copping criticism from the Road Transport Forum for going down the prosecution path, targeting stock truck companies at their busiest time of year last winter.

Frankly, a stern approach from the council was justified given the pitiful inadequacy of the voluntary code which had been operating.

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Farmers and the transport industry had been pretty much ignoring that scheme and police and Environment Southland personnel had to some extent been casting it as each other's problem.

A timely and co-operative crackdown was by no means out of order.

But rules apply as much as ever during crackdowns.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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