Thursday, May 22, 2014
Reynold Macpherson: Representational Democracy Mustn’t be Corrupted
I have been asked to comment on the proposal to allow a reconstituted Te Arawa Board the right to sit on Council committees, be party to the Resource Management Act decisions, and establish sub-committees, with the Council obliged to provide written explanations whenever they do not take their advice. If accurate, this additional power would enable Te Arawa Board to govern the Council.
Before reacting, all citizens need to see the full text before such fundamental changes to local governance are made, and long before any offer or decision is made by the Mayor and Council. It seems unwise and politically risky to hold privileged consultations and raise undeliverable expectations behind the scenes. Blaming the whistle blower for the mess is unworthy.
The citizens in our representative democracy, who wish it to remain so, will not want the Mayor and all Councillors to share their governance powers with others. Especially not with others who have not been elected, others who will not be accountable to all of us, and others we can’t remove from power through the ballot box.
Most respect the right of Te Arawa and all other key stakeholders in our community to build their capacity to represent their diverse interests. They can select and promote candidates.
Lobby already-elected councillors. Have them report back to them on progress. And vote in more effective representatives.
These processes, normal in representational democracy, give full but not unfair scope to advancing the interests of Tangata Whenua. But, equally as important, these interests have to be reconciled by Council with the interests of all other stakeholders and citizens–in order to sustain the legitimacy of governance.
But a very dangerous line is crossed should any stakeholder group begin to capture the machinery of local government to their exclusive advantage. As countless international examples show, other stakeholder groups regard the corruption of representational democracy as illegitimate. And when local government acts as a front for privilege it warrants resistance–up to and including political violence. Our Mayor and Councillors must ensure that we don’t go there as a community.
I suggest that the Mayor and Councillors who are committed to enabling a more effective relationship with Te Arawa consult with the reconstituted Board. The aim should be to develop more effective communication mechanisms and attractive policy options deserving wide support. But without promising structures, such as Maori wards, that will divide our bicultural community and violate the principle of representational democracy. A failure to finesse the dilemmas involved could have severe electoral outcomes for our Mayor and Councillors and trigger a backlash against Board members.
In sum, the basic principle of representative democracy is elected officials representing and reconciling the diverse interests in a community. The Mayor and Council have various duties; to hear all stakeholders, negotiate policy settlements and govern in the common good.
Te Arawa is a senior stakeholder in our community with considerable political muscle that needs to flexed more effectively.
But is it in our collective interest to undermine representative democracy? E hokia Kupe? Kao. Did Kupe return? No.
Dr. Macpherson teaches political philosophy and can be contacted at email@example.com. This commentary was first published in the Rotorua Daily Post 14 May 2014, p. 9. It is reprinted with the author's permission.
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