Local bodies need to be put on a spending leash

Ask the average New Plymouth ratepayer for a reaction to the news he or she is an indirect shareholder in a bunch of dairy farms in Tasmania and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare.
But Tasmania is where the New Plymouth District Council has chosen to invest more than 18% of the fund that deploys the money the council gained from the sale of electricity lines company Powerco in 2004.
The council owns 75% of Tasman Farms, the descendant of once-listed Tasman Agriculture. The investment, explains the chairman of the fund’s manager, comes under the category of “alternative assets” and is one of the many stones the fund turns over.
New Plymouth District Council isn’t a stranger to controversial investment of ratepayers’ money. A few years ago it proposed building a cafe in a $6 million riverside development, to compete with the city’s privately owned cafes.Nor are ludicrous examples of council investment hard to find in other fiefs. Buller District Council in 2002 built a sock factory at Westport which subsequently went bust, costing ratepayers $450,000 and attracting scathing criticism from the Auditor-General.At Hokitika, Westland Council proposed to lend $2.2m to, and invest $500,000 in, a plastics factory which, according to Business New Zealand, had links to the local branch of the Church of Scientology.