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158 pages in under 24 hours

Two elected members voted against adopting South Wairarapa District Council’s annual report because they were given less than 24 hours to read the 158-page document.

But because they were the minority opposition, the document was adopted on Wednesday.

Councils around New Zealand have until December 31 to adopt their annual reports, which is a document reporting on the financial and performance indicators achieved in the most recent financial year, compared with what had been planned.

There has been a delay in Audit New Zealand’s sign-off on annual reports due to resourcing issues.

This was the case for South Wairarapa District Council, which received its annual report audit on Tuesday.

The report was emailed to councillors at 2.53pm on Tuesday and councillors met at 9am on Wednesday to adopt it.

Councillors Pip Maynard and Brenda West voted against receiving and adopting the annual report.

“My main concern is the fact that we haven’t even had 24 hours to look at this 158-page document,” Maynard said.

“I don’t think there has been enough time. To be fair, I’m quite surprised everyone has had enough time to look at this and investigate any issues they have and put this through. I certainly don’t feel that is the case.

“Asking us to do that within 24 hours, I don’t believe is good enough.”

West agreed and said it was “unacceptable” for elected members to have less than 24 hours to process such a large and important document.

“Would it be acceptable for any business to chuck a report at a group of people and say, sign it today?”

SWDC chief executive Harry Wilson said the draft report had previously been “dealt with” in a public excluded meeting of the Finance, Audit, and Risk Committee – “so it has been available to councillors”.

West said: “Not all councillors”.

Councillors Leigh Hay, Pam Colenso, Garrick Emms, Brian Jephson, and West are on the Finance, Audit, and Risk committee.

Councillors Rebecca Fox, Alistair Plimmer, Maynard, and Mayor Alex Beijen are not on the committee.

Auditor John Whittal gave an unmodified opinion – a clean bill of health – to the majority of the information in the council’s annual report.

“Based on the results of our work, our opinion on the audited information is that it materially fairly presents council’s performance over the last year and its financial position.”

He gave a qualified opinion on the council’s statement of service performance because there were certain performance measures Wellington Water administered on behalf of council which he identified “significant issues” with.

Issues arose from performance measures in the prior year with fault response times and the number of dry weather sewerage overflows.

Whittal said the SWDC annual report audit was supposed to be finished a couple of weeks ago but audit staff resourcing issues had resulted in a delay.

“In terms of the impact of covid-19 on auditors, it has been significant.

“There are audits we just won’t get to before the end of the year.”

He said it had been a “really tough year” in terms of staffing.

Wilson thanked Whittal for the work he had done to get the audit done in time for the council’s December 15 meeting.— NZLDR


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