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 This commentary was first published in the Rotorua Daily Post 14 May 2014, p. 9. It is reprinted with the author's permission.


paul scott said...

Mr Reynold MacPherson,
I see in Australia they are having trouble with the many elements of so cslled democracy. That is local Councils, and State representatives, Government National and then that idiot Senate. I do not who said Reynold, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, but I bet he was American. Thank you for your article, I also thank Muriel for the opportunity to talk real
from Paul Scott

Brian said...

If we proceed down this pathway of appointments rather than being elected, the ultimate conclusion will be a complete division between Non Maori and Maori.
That spells disaster for our democracy and places our descendants into a future racial conflict. From which there will be no winners.

Either we are ONE PEOPLE bound together by a representative democracy or we are NOT. If the latter is the case, then the correct solution, bitter as it may be, is Partition.

It happened in India in 1947 when it was declared impossible. To date it represents the best of solutions at that time.

Barry said...

Or just deport all part-maoris to Campbell Island.

Anonymous said...

"Te Arawa is a senior stakeholder in our community ..."

Horse shit!

Since there is no legal definition of who is "Maori" and it is left for individuals (all of whom are of mixed European-Maori descent) to decide for themselves whether to [a] identify as "Maori" and [b] affiliate to an iwi, an iwi should have no greater public status than any other group with a voluntary membership, such as a rugby club or bowling club.

Nor should it have any greater status when it comes to local government decision-making than such groups.

It is only by accepting the entirely bogus notion that the Treaty of Waitangi was a racial partnership that separate Maori representation can fly.

Fiona Mackenzie said...

It concerns me greatly that our councils are falling over themselves to institute politically corrupt process and empower unelected/unaccountable Maori-elite. Meanwhile our government simply looks the other way.

It does make you wonder how corrupt the system already is? Are there pay-offs happening during or after our politicians hold office?

Anonymous said...

It is important to remember that 'representative democracy' is predicated upon the representative being the 'agent' of electors. The agent is charged with using the privileged position to make decisions in the best interests of all electors in his/her constituency, not just those that voted for him/her.

It is NOT predicated on theories of 'statistical representation', where the sample 'selected' (not 'elected') must be within tightly-specified bounds in order to qualify as a 'representative sample' of the population from which it is drawn.

Now it may be that sometimes an electoral process will create a polity that fits the 'representative sample' criteria. but this is secondary to the formal constitutional agency that an elected individual assumes - to take account of the views of ALL electors in making decisions, not just those whose 'statistical sampling' characteristics he/she shares.

To appoint decision-makers with with no electoral accountability confounds the principles of agency undertakings. If a decision-maker is appointed to represent (advocate for) the views of a particular statistical sample during decision-making, then the decision-making process is not based upon the principles of agency but on principles of 'delegation'. The delegate's role is to represent only the views of those who sent him/her. There is no room to take account of other points of view when making decisions.

If our polities are to become fractious competitions between delegates exhibiting various 'statistical sampling' characteristics, then it begs the question of whether we have abandoned the principles of 'representative democracy' in its agency sense. If this is the case, then it may be time to replace our representative democracy wit a 'direct democracy' and let individuals vote themselves rather than selecting delegates to carry out their instructions.