Auditor-General's overview

Guidance for members of local authorities about the local authorities (Members' Interests) Act 1968.

I am pleased to issue this new edition of our guide for local authorities on the requirements of the Local Authorities (Members' Interests) Act 1968 (the Act). We produced the first of these guides in 1995 to help people understand the Act's requirements and what they need to do to comply. We revise it every three years at the time of the local authority elections so that up-to-date guidance is available for new members when they take office.

The Act helps protect the integrity of local authority decision-making by ensuring that people are not affected by personal motives when they participate in local authority decision-making and cannot use their position to obtain preferential access to contracts. The two specific rules in the Act are that members cannot:

  • enter into contracts with their local authority worth more than $25,000 in a financial year; or
  • participate in matters before their authority in which they have a pecuniary interest, other than an interest in common with the public.

In each case, my office has power to grant approvals or exemptions. The detail of the rules and the various exemptions is complex, and members need to take care to ensure that they understand how the Act may apply to them.

It can be serious if members get it wrong. Breaching these rules is a criminal offence, and we are the prosecuting authority. Disqualification from office is automatic if a person breaches the contracting rule, or if a person is convicted of having participated in matters in which they had a pecuniary interest.

My staff therefore work closely with the staff of local authorities to help members do the right thing. We have well-developed systems for considering requests for approvals and exemptions, and for providing advice. This guide explains those systems and the information that we need to respond to requests promptly.

Part 5 of this guide discusses more general conflicts of interest and bias questions that arise regularly in the local government sector. Although we do not have the same formal role in relation to these issues, we are regularly asked for guidance and comment on good practice. We have also issued a more general good practice guide that discusses these issues in more detail: Managing conflicts of interest: Guidance for public entities (June 2007).

I thank Dean Knight, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Victoria University of Wellington, for his assistance in preparing this new edition of the guide.

Signature - LP

Lyn Provost
Controller and Auditor-General

14 October 2010

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