A sororal state of affairs

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt and Suqian City (China) Mayor Tianqi Wang sign a sister city agreement in 2013.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt and Suqian City (China) Mayor Tianqi Wang sign a sister city agreement in 2013.

EDITORIAL: Sororal, as we all surely know once we've double-checked in our dictionary of choice, is the feminine version of fraternal. It means "like sisters".

The Invercargill City Council is getting seriously sororal this month sending two separate delegations to our sister cities Suqian in China and Kumagaya in Japan.

All up, the mayor, six councillors, three senior staff, representatives of Venture Southland, the Invercargill Chamber of Commerce and a translator will be presenting their passports and purposefully traipsing around the two cities with the intent of strengthening relationships in business, trade, tourism and, doubtless, cultural understanding.

Such trips are not inherently good, any more than they are inherently bad.  They're worth it if they're worth it. 

READ MORE: Four councillors to fly to China

Assessments in that regard are certainly mixed, partly because the report-backs have been more than a tad nebulous.

The expense of the trips, for the ratepayer, have been rather more vividly appreciated than the benefits, most notoriously when three staff members returned from a trip to China to buy Christmas lights in 2015. These proved unfit for purpose, failing to meet New Zealand electrical standards. They could have lit the place more prettily by staying here and just burning the money.

It is time for the cost-benefit nature of these trips to be more carefully and publicly presented. It's true that not everything will be quantifiable, such as the benefits of student exchanges between schools, but more clarity is sorely needed. Without it, fairly or not, public suspicion will increasingly congeal into cynicism.

It isn't easy to understand why four councillors are needed for the Suqian trip. In fact there's probably a lightbulb joke in there somewhere.

And even then, each of these councillors, deputy mayor Rebecca Amundsen, Lesley Soper, Graham Lewis and Alex Crackett, are reportedly making their debut visits. If relationship-building is an important part of the agenda, why re-start things with a gaggle of newbies?

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The Invercargill Ratepayer Advocacy Group isn't alone in wondering why this trip is quite so heavy on the local body politicians compared to the singular Venture and chamber officials. Perhaps it's a perception-of-prestige thing at the hosts' end.

The expectation hereabouts is that the councillors will be visiting a large number of factories and businesses, doubtless declaring themselves interested and impressed at every turn. But just what benefits each of the four will bring back for the rest of us remains to be seen. 

"Remains to be seen" is a less airy phrase than it may seem. We should be looking for four independent list of benefits, rather than the result of four people filing reports that just one could have done.  

 - Stuff

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