January 04, 2015
Rule change after Ngai Tahu panelist sacked
Environment Canterbury has changed the rules around conflicts of interest after a commissioner of Ngai Tahu descent was barred from hearing an application by one of the tribe’s commercial subsidiaries.
Hearing chair Paul Rogers sacked Yvette Couch-Lewis in July after she refused to stand down from the panel considering the resource consent for Ngai Tahu Forest Estate’s plan to turn Balmoral forest into intensive farming.
The consent was refused and the company is appealing.
In future commissioners rather than committee chairs will rule on conflicts on interest.
Ms Couch-Lewis, who works as an office manager at Te Hapu o Ngati Wheke Marae, says she refused to stand down because the precedent could be used to bar any Ngai Tahu member from sitting on council committees or community groups.
"I hope all parties have learnt something from this situation so claims of conflict of interest can be better managed in the future. Who else would be able to talk on Ngai Tahu values except Ngai Tahu?" she told the Christchurch Press.
She said as a commissioner, she would have been able to challenge submitters of the use of kaitiakitanga and what it means in relation to the proposal. “It's not just a word you download – you need to understand what that word means."
During the hearing, Chris Ford from Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu told the panel Ms Couch-Lewis was an accredited commissioner with significant expertise in cultural effects.
She received no financial benefit from the estate and was one of 50,000 Ngai Tahu whanui.
Her relationship between Couch-Lewis and the estate was analogous to a resident of Christchurch and council-owned lines company Orion.
"Would anyone suggest that because a person is a resident of Christchurch that would prevent them sitting at a hearing that involved a subsidiary of Orion?" Mr Ford said.
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