Concerns over Shelly Bay voting process

7:01 pm on 2 February 2016

Some Taranaki Whanui iwi members are concerned that an iwi employee is handling votes on a controversial proposal to sell land at Shelly Bay in Wellington.

Shelly Bay, Wellington

Shelly Bay, Wellington Photo: Flickr user side78 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Tribal body Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust needs 75 percent of its voters to agree before it can sell the waterfront land, which is its largest asset.

Strong interest in the proposal has led to extra consultation hui with the trust's members around the country.

Andrew Mepham, who has been to all three hui, said he was alarmed when an iwi employee offered people the chance to vote then and there at a meeting last week in Lower Hutt.

"One of the employees of the trust stood up and waved around a plastic box, a plastic container, that was unsecured and basically showed everyone 'this is where you put your ballots'."

That employee, Ben Jamison, is the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust's business services manager and has been working for the trust since 2013. He has been appointed by it to be the voting representative and take the ballots at the hui.

A spokesperson for election management company Electionz.com, Anthony Morton, said Mr Jamison was not a registered member of Taranaki Whanui so the trust was not breaking any rules.

"It is usually left to the organisation to arrange their voting representative. In this case, the voting representative does not have a voting right themselves so we are as happy as we can be that this is a good process for them to follow for this information round."

Mr Morton said the process was similar to special local government elections where council employees handled the votes, and said whatever was used had to be practical and cost-effective.

The trust's finances have dropped from $25 million to $17.5m since settling its treaty claim in 2009.

It is currently the subject of an inquiry by the Serious Fraud Office.

'Moral' conflict

Mr Mepham said having a staff member taking votes was not a good look.

"Where the employee has a direct relationship to the commercial board and the decision to sell Shelly Bay, I do not believe they should have a role in gathering votes," he said. "I do see a conflict of interest. It is not a legal one, it is more of a moral one."

Iwi trustee Holden Hohaia said it would perhaps be wiser to have an employee of electionz.com physically present and managing the voting process.

But, he said, the process could still work. "Provided those protocols are followed, you can, within reason, have that objectivity. As long as that person managing that ballot box is not a Taranaki Whanui member, you have got a suitable separation there."

RNZ was copied into emails in which other iwi members expressed concerns last month about voting taking place at the hui in Lower Hutt.

The trust's chief executive, Jason Fox, said then that the process was above board and voting would continue at the next hui in Wellington, which was held last Thursday. However, the ballot box was not seen at that hui and Mr Fox could not be reached to explain why.

Another hui will be held in Auckland tomorrow.

Mr Morton said the bulk of the votes on whether to sell Shelly Bay would be cast at a general meeting in Wellington on 9 February. He would be handling those votes, he said.

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