Forest & Bird lays formal complaint with Auditor General over Ruataniwha conflict of interest

Forest & Bird has made a formal complaint to the Auditor General and requested an investigation after it was revealed that a Hawke’s Bay Regional Councillor stands to benefit financially if the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme goes ahead.

Councillor Deborah Hewitt asked for an exemption so she could continue to participate in discussions and vote on significant decisions relating to the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s investment in the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.

Councillor Hewitt owns property within the area that could benefit from water supplied by the proposed Ruataniwha Dam and the value of this land is expected to increase if the scheme goes ahead.

The irrigation zone in question appears to have been added to the Scheme in October 2015 and was a key reason the projected cost of the scheme spiralled to almost $900 million earlier this year.

Forest & Bird Environmental Lawyer Sally Gepp says it is difficult to tell when the dam company decided to add an additional Zone N to the irrigation scheme.

"The documents we have seen show that Councillor Hewitt should have known from at least October last year that this Zone would include her property and that as a result she would stand to gain from decisions by the Council to invest public money in the Scheme. She should have declared her interest and stood aside from decision-making from that time” said Sally Gepp.

In addition to its formal complaint, Forest & Bird has urged the Auditor-General not to grant Councillor Hewitt an exemption, saying that the benefits of allowing her to participate in decisions relating to the Scheme do not outweigh the risk that her participation will be regarded as distorting or tainting such decisions.