Mayor – yet again – doesn’t reveal tourism company directorships

WLW commentary, 6 December 2021

Transparency is fundamental to trust in our politicians and the workings of democracy. As are following due process and legal requirements. 

Especially when it involves potential conflicts of interest of our mayor as chair of the South Island’s biggest tourism company.

So it was disappointing to see in a Crux article on Friday that Mayor Boult has again failed to be transparent about his tourism company directorships.

This time, the Register of Interests on QLDC’s website had not disclosed seven directorships associated with his chairmanship of Real Group Ltd (previously Wayfare Group Ltd).  Mr Boult’s lawyers advised he had disclosed this by using the word “Group” when notifying council of his new role.

That doesn’t seem to quite cut the mustard.

But it was an improvement on last time this company restructured – when his chairmanship of Real Journeys was removed, and nothing put in its place.

Not even the fact that he had instead been made chair of Wayfare Group, the “uber-group” comprising, among other South Island tourism businesses reliant on “bums on seats” tourism, Real Journeys, Cardrona Alpine Resort, Go Orange and Canyon Food and Brew Company.

In the campaign lead up to the last election, when challenged by both Newsroom and Wanaka Sun about the potential conflict of interest his role as chair of Real Journeys posed, Mr Boult told them he had resigned so there was no conflict.  He did not acknowledge this was to take up the new role as chair of the uber group.

This new role did not come out in public until the chair of We Love Wakatipu Inc challenged Mr Boult’s story at the August 8, 2019, council meeting, pointing out both the lack of transparency in Mr Boult’s media comments and the fact this chair role was not on the council’s Registry of Interests as it legally ought to be.

Within half an hour, while the council meeting was still in full flow, QLDC’s PR man had put out a disclaimer saying it was in “administrative slip up”.  Quite a contagious one, it seems.

In March 2020, by which time Wayfare Group also owned Treble Cone, the mayor’s councillors cleared him of a conflict of interest charge on this front, considering his board fee was not a substantive part of his income.

Fair enough, we assume – certainly compared to his remuneration as chair of Stonewood before it went under – it probably wasn’t. Not that we know.

But there are two other fundamental measures of conflicts of interest to consider:

  • That their role/relationship did not give them an interest greater than a general member of the public in an issue and
  • That a general member of the public would not perceive there might be such a conflict of interest.

Under both these tests, being chair of Real Group Ltd (and director of its seven companies) must surely count as a conflict when it comes to decisions like whether QAC should run our airport primarily for tourism growth – or to meet the community’s social, cultural, environmental, and economic well-being as required under the Local Government Act.

Mr Boult is the only councillor to have voted each time to allow QAC to continue with its air noise boundary (ANB) expansion plans. The only time he pulled back slightly was at the same meeting that We Love Wakatipu Inc revealed his “administrative slip up”.

That is when he unilaterally announced that council had put a halt on ANB expansion planning until after a socio-economic report – later done by MartinJenkins – had been done to guide councillors’ airport decisions.

This was a deft move by the mayor to kick this contentious issue down the road until after the election, in the wake of growing community opposition to QAC’s and the council leadership team’s expansion plans.

You will remember that council has since ignored the MartinJenkins report (they have never even had a roundtable discussion of it) after it revealed that community opposition still ran deep, despite the study’s deeply flawed methodology and text that appeared designed to understate such opposition.

So yes, it is really disappointing that this pattern of behaviour to deflect/avoid/hide questions of conflict of interests continues.

For one thing, it suggests that the mayor thinks our community is stupid. For another, the betrayal of community trust inflicts a lack of trust in the whole of council.

We recently heard the new CEO of Queenstown Airport Corporation publicly say that expansion of the ANB will not be part of QAC’s strategic plan for the next 10 years. 

We assume he had QAC board approval to make this statement. But it does not become real until it has been adopted by our councillors in their Statement of Expectations and the resultant QAC Statement of Intent.

We hope that QLDC leadership team’s and councillors’ 2022 New Year’s resolutions include making sure their community can learn once again to trust our council, its processes, its legitimacy and its decisions.

(If you would like to read further detail as to the instances mentioned above, check out our Facebook and webpage posts of the time.)

Thanks to the ODT – a couple of years old, but still sadly pertinent.

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