What’s Wrong With Oversight?

Today, Len Brown will face a motion to censure him, and a possible motion of no confidence. Following this, if he continues to stick around Auckland Council are going to enact measures that will see the establishment of some sort of oversight committee or other institution to rein in the previously almost-unchecked powers of the mayor, that led to his not declaring the many texts and hotel room upgrades that he used to conduct his affair, and for other business.

Yesterday, the NZ Herald published an editorial calling for Brown to resign. Never mind that New Zealand’s leading newspaper has slapped up an opinion piece (and it’s not mainstream opinion either) on its front page and called it news, because one of the things that the editorial said is that:

‘Some kind of oversight committee to control the mayor would drag Auckland back into partisan and parochial standoffs, the very state the Super City was designed to rectify. The absence of an independent mayor with strong powers would invite the left and right to revert to practices mercifully absent in the first Super City term.’

But would it really? Would an oversight committee that kept the leader of one of the biggest institutions in New Zealand in check really be a bad thing? I’m not an expert in ideology at all, but to me this seems like an inevitable result of a man (Rodney Hide) or party (ACT) who believe in principles of freedom, making a governing body and giving the mayor near free reign. The SuperCity doesn’t even really make sense in terms of ACT beliefs – they literally took political independence from smaller parts of the region and made them become part of a big local government – but whatever. The reason that there was not originally some sort of oversight committee to make sure the mayor wasn’t acting out seems like it could have been some neo-liberal thing about the mayor not having to be regulated.

Ironically, it’s now the same group of people (the far right) that are saying that Brown should resign, because he used the powers that they gave him originally.

Oversight is a common tool used in pretty much all central governments. We have an ombudsman; we have Parliamentary Services, who recently launched a highly necessary enquiry into document leaks. Checks on any executive are a good thing in almost any circumstances, and the broader the powers of the executive, the more necessary oversight is to ensure that there is no abuse of executive privilege. Had the position of Mayor of Auckland been created with more checks, Len Brown and the city of Auckland would not be in this position. In fact, by siding with a very small right wing group calling for his resignation, the Herald have descended into the partisanship that they warn will happen with the establishment of an oversight committee in Auckland.

Of course, if Len Brown resigns today or whenever then this is purely academic, but that doesn’t meant that the idea of an oversight committee to check the Mayor of Auckland should go away. Oversight is a highly necessary tool in any government, and personally I believe that Len Brown has a lot more good to accomplish, just with a little bit more monitoring.

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