Spending and winning money

Last updated 09:58 04/12/2012

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OPINION: Last  week Parliament debated legislation aimed at "reforming" local government, writes Tim Shadbolt in Southern Focus.

Once again the Bluff Lotto Shop was dragged into the quagmire of allegations and counter-allegations concerning outrageous expenditure by local councils. It seemed ironic that while examining the wastage of ratepayers' money, central government rushed out and spent $100 million on a state-of-the-art Novopay computer system that seems utterly incapable of paying teachers.

Perhaps central government should focus a little more time and energy on cleaning up its own act before it launches into large scale reform of local government.

I'm not claiming councils don't make mistakes. Of course we do. Recently Environment Southland was identified as having poor processes and procedures and the chief executive officer Rob Phillips publicly took full responsibility for the mess and promised to improve their systems.

The Invercargill City Council made a mistake at its June meeting by setting up a committee to oversee the selection process for our chief executive but had no delegated authority to do so. As Mayor I publicly took full responsibility for the mistake and we have ensured the issue of delegated authority is looked at right across our committee structures.

When will we see an MP stand up in parliament and say ‘I take full responsibility for the $100m botchup of our teachers' pay system', or, ‘I take full responsibility for the $20 billion botchup of leaky homes', or, ‘I take full responsibility for the illegal spying on Kim Dotcom, which will ultimately cost taxpayers millions of dollars'? That's likely to happen when my Auckland Island Pigs not only cure diabetes, but fly backwards, in formation, at the Wanaka Air Show.

At least in local government when we make mistakes we front up, take it on the chin, and set about improving our systems so it doesn't happen again.

Embarrassing mistakes, however, are not just confined to the public sector.

It's been interesting watching the supermarkets' cunning plan to cut the cost of checkout operators unfold in all its glory. Once upon a time we had glassy-eyed operators staring into the middle distance and asking, as though they really cared, if you've had a busy day. I was always tempted to reply, "No, I had a really selfish, lazy, decadent day of watching videos on the couch, sipping cheap sherry, then indulging in a little afternoon delight before falling asleep and then borrowing 10 bucks of my mum's pension money so I could buy this tin of baked beans from the supermarket," but I lacked the moral fortitude to do so.

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Anyway, the supermarkets decided to abolish these inane conversations by letting the consumer become a "voluntary" checkout operator. Brilliant. The taste buds of consumers soared with delight. Russian caviar from Vladivostok. That looks to me like two bananas. Individually wrapped pitless dates from California. Yes, I think these look like three bananas. A bag full of salted roasted macadamia nuts. Um? Four bananas could look suspicious. I'd better call them five raisins. It was far superior to the bread and Weet-Bix from the food bank.

So far, $380m of luxury food items have vanished off the supermarket shelves and I'm blaming most of the loss on half- starved school teachers.

But when it comes to food wars it's November 28, that will go down as a day of infamy, for on this day in 2012, we witnessed the resumption of the Cold War when Mr Yummy rammed his icecream truck into the rear of Mr Whippy's truck for price cutting.

Despite all this, the big news of the week was the $20m Lotto ticket won in Invercargill. The suspense. The speculation. The brilliant promotional opportunity for the Burt Munro challenge. In fact, when the media wolf packs hunt him down and finally flush him out, I'll be claiming $50,000 for my work and support on the World's Fastest Indian and the Burt Munro Challenge, without which he would never have won the prize.

Unlike Trev, the supermarket worker who claimed his big win would not change his life and he would be back at work on Monday, this Lotto winner is far more intelligent. But, unfortunately, New Zealand is a small country. You can run but you can't hide. His plan of buying a vintage motorbike and then heading overseas is a good one. My advice is jump on a luxury cruise ship in Southern France where most of the other passengers are worth $20 million, and don't return till some other poor mug wins a major Lotto prize. One day I'd like to write a book on all the major Lotto winners. There would be some amazing stories to tell.

» Tim Shadbolt is the mayor of Invercargill.

- The Southland Times

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