Hamilton City Councillors' financial interests to be revealed

20:05, Apr 30 2013

A cloak of secrecy over Hamilton politicians' personal financial interests is about to be lifted, after a year-long fight by the Waikato Times.

The change means the Hamilton City Council will be finally aligned with political counterparts in almost every other major city in making summary details of their personal commercial and property holdings available to the public.

Early last year city council chief executive Barry Harris refused to make public a register of politicians' personal financial interests, compiled each year to help ensure elected members are not influenced by personal gain when they vote.

Mr Harris' decision came even though the council's own rules for elected members described the register as "publicly available", and it prompted the Times to complain to the Ombudsman's Office.

Ombudsman David McGee has now asked Mr Harris to make public summaries of the latest register declarations "as soon as possible" after concluding there was a genuine public interest in politicians being seen to have no conflicts.

More than a year after the complaint was lodged, and after earlier conceding to the ombudsman's view but arguing it was "appropriate" that the information only be made available from the next election, Mr Harris has confirmed that his staff are preparing the latest declarations by elected members to be made public.

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The publication also comes one year after a majority of the council voted down an attempt by councillor Ewan Wilson to devise and maintain a public register.

Deputy Mayor Gordon Chesterman at the time complained that the issue was driven by the media wanting to know who the "rich councillors" were.

Mr Chesterman's financial interests had earlier been raised after he voted on proposed reforms that could have cut rates on $2 million of city real estate that he owned stakes in. He removed himself from later votes after advice.

Mr Chesterman wrote to the Times saying there was no law compelling him to reveal his interests declarations, and until there was, he would not.

Told of the outcome of the complaint, Mr Chesterman said he would comply.

"My position has always been there needs to be a standard register for local government. A national framework would spell out exactly how you report it."

The city council's current code of conduct requires elected members to make an annual declaration of the nature and extent of their business activities; trust, company and partnership interests; landholdings within the city; official gifts, and any other matter which may be seen to influence their actions.

Mr Wilson said the chief executive's decision "should have taken three days, not 13 months" and little voluntary progress has been made in the past year to follow the example of Wellington, Tauranga, Auckland and Christchurch".

"Some councillors felt that their confidentiality was more important than the ratepayers. We still don't have a declaration they'd be in a position to release."

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem said although there was no statutory obligation for the council to make the information public, the legislation was under review.

Waikato Times