What does the Minister have to hide on his expensive motorways? About a month and half ago I lodged 6 Questions for Written Answer (QWAs) with the Minister of Transport. They related to the total cost and benefit cost ratio of 3 of the Roads of National Significance: Puhoi to Wellsford, the Waikato Expressway, and the Wellington Northern Corridor.
Here is a copy of two of my questions, which are identical to the rest except they deal with different motorways.
7354: Gareth Hughes to the Minister of Transport (11 Oct 2011): What is the most recent cost estimate for the whole of the Puhoi to Wellsford road of national significance project, as well as for each constituent part?
7353: Gareth Hughes to the Minister of Transport (11 Oct 2011): What is the most recent cost estimate for the whole of the Puhoi to Wellsford road of national significance project, as well as for each constituent part?
For those of you who don’t know about QWAs, they are a tool that MPs have to hold Ministers to account. We can ask Ministers written questions on any reasonable topic, relating to their portfolios. Legally, if the House is sitting the Minister is obliged to respond to our question within 7 working days.
That’s the theory. In practise, of course, Ministers are often very busy and don’t answer all their QWAs on time. The Minister of Transport, has a particularly bad track record. Also, unlike most Ministers, he seems to treat QWAs as a game where the goal is to avoid giving any meaningful information.
In this particular case, the Minister actually never responded to my QWAs at all because he was late and when the House rose for the election all QWAs are cancelled.
I didn’t want to make a big deal out of this because I appreciated the Minister was dealing with the Rena clean up at the time. I am sure we will certainly be asking for this information once the House sits again in February.
After all, there have been rumours that the cost of the Wellington Northern Corridor will far exceed expectations and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same was true of the second section of Puhoi to Wellsford due to the challenges of the terrain up there (as reported by the Herald). The business case for these motorways will be even weaker if their cost increase.
However, even if we can ask again for this information in February I think it shows the Minister’s disdain for democracy and open government that he didn’t bother to give us this crucial information before the election.
There was another blog post about the Minister’s undemocratic practises recently at the Standard. This covered how the Minister of Transport recently decided (in secret, against the advice of several government departments) to try and restrict the powers of the Auckland Council to be involved in transport planning.
Instead he wants those powers to be devolved to the (unelected) board of Auckland Transport, a CCO. What’s more, 5 of the 7 board members on Auckland Transport were appointed by the Minister. Auckland Council is fighting back against this decision and I hope they’ll be successful.
Over the next 3 years we will keep up the fight to try and keep the government’s transport planning and funding decisions transparent and accountable. But I think it’s going to be an uphill battle. What do you think?