“Decide announce defend” DAD. No I didn’t make that up – it’s in one of the articles on “community consultation” I read online prompted by the current Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust (TECT) Trustee initiated proposal to “remove by restructuring” the fundamental class of beneficiaries of the existing asset rich consumer trust. And, I’m also responding to that heart felt Trustee cry “what else could we have done?”
Yes, TECT’s a consumer trust. You could be forgiven for not knowing that if you looked at the website or, were the recipient of the ongoing charitable purposes sponsored marketing that is on Facebook, or, the “TECT was here” promotional signs and acknowledgments all over the buildings and fences of the Western Bay of Plenty.
“Consultation”, a word with so many meanings and so many variations it should have its own dictionary. It covers the kind that’s undertaken when they’re planning to close the factory and you’re going to be without a job. The kind that’s called “a referendum”. The kind a national arts body undertakes to find out what you think they should be doing and how they should be doing it. The kind parents and caregivers undertake to ensure the food that is bought and made is going to be eaten willingly. The kind that happens on the marae.
Three years ago the then TECT Trustees had a DAD moment that got kicked and punched into oblivion by most probably many of the same trust beneficiaries as today. But here they are again with the same proposal and a DAD process rerun – they decided, they announced and they are defending . The Trustees compound their DAD approach with the “wolf is at the door” big heading message on their publicity material.
It’s such a shame. Why , if the Trustees really did believe the trust needed restructuring, didn’t they initiate a “community consultation” process to explore a more innovative and consensus based final proposal? And, it seems, while they’ve taken a panoramic view of who the trust should benefit, the Trustees have chosen to take a narrow view of what the proposal process of the current trust deed allows them to do. Actually, all it sets down is the final formal process to be followed. It doesn’t preclude prior community consultation – in this instance the community is the pool of beneficiaries.
The current process is undoubtedly better than last time but it is still like a new bow on an aging teddy bear. There was a section on the website with an introductory video, memoranda, documentation including a copy of the proposed new trust deed for the proposed new charitable trust and a memorandum from the Trust solicitors. But despite the dramatic fundamental legal changes to beneficiary status and trust structure, the Trustees provide no independent professional or legal advice for the about to be disenfranchised beneficiaries. (Contemporary investigations confirm the beneficiaries are statistically more likely to find a Dinosaur’s Egg in Red Square than pro bono expert legal representation). And it is revealing that the Trustees have seconded a professional with a “takeovers and mergers” focus to be part of the trustee team.
When you use the DAD process you do not engage in consultation. You engage in public relations, publicity and proposal specific information. You seek “feedback” on the specific proposal you have brought and support for your preferred decision. There is often a tightly structured timeline to the formal acceptance or implementation of the “decision”. It’s all “corporate redundancy” not “community consultation”.
And that perhaps accounts for the mere 700-800 responses to the proposal and the minute percentage of in person submissions from a potential pool of 49,000 plus consumer beneficiaries. DAD’s not interested in what you might need or want. DAD is interested in getting you to go along with what’s been put forward.
One of the men I sit next to at the final of the three “information sessions” tells me the Trustees’ proposal is all about the power company shares and opportunities for corporate investment, not whether the process is kosher or little old ladies like me are treated “fairly”. Someone else has told me “they, the mythical they, want the money for a large community project. At the submission hearing day some submitters repeat, that the Trustees’ primary responsibility and duty of care is to the beneficiaries; not to the power company or any prospective purchaser and not to the wider community for wider charitable purposes or another labelling and branding opportunity. Other speakers, both at the information session and the hearing day, make it clear the assets of the consumer trust should be dedicated to charitable good works and community purposes and who cares about the consumer beneficiaries. After one of the floor speakers from the information meeting exhorts us not to do anything to frighten off any prospective share purchaser or affect the share price, I get that Rumsfeld feeling:-
“…. as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And …… it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones”
Several people approach me including another “little old lady” who has read the new, proposed trust deeds. She raises a major issue or “ perceived defect” in tge drafting as does one of the young men who fleeting perch at the table. When, after the submissions hearings day has concluded, this issue is directly drawn to the attention of one of the Trustees they present as genuinely shocked and disbelieving. .And after all the expert opinions they’ve had. I take my unknown unknowns of every category and go home.
I’m neither shocked nor surprised when I start having “Alice” and “Wonderland” moments about the unknown unknowns. But most probably that’s in the same basket as “the churn” and the knowledge that the “published solicitor’s “Consumer Memorandum” is not a complete document or that “the trust is a young trust”. But I thought you said we were disappearing?
Over the years I’ve both been invited to be involved in a spectrum of community consultation processes and I’ve been subjected to corporate consultation. Both have taught me that human beings perceive and process information very differently. I also know how careful those giving information have to be when making those off the cuff explanatory statements – it’s like when a Policeman tells a child something. And conspiratorially whispering stuff after the submissions have closed is not consultation.
Real community consultation is a long process and it can be hard work. But it’s less likely you’ll get someone showing up at your “submission hearing” wanting to know “who the people on the committee are and what are they doing”….?” But you don’t tell them they’ve missed the boat and this is only a hearing – it’s not the District Court. You get one of your platoon of staff to take one of the laptops the consumers have paid for outside into the foyer and explain what’s going on.
Here’s some initiatives the Trustees could have implemented over the three years they have had since they first floated the idea of restructuring the Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust and moving its assets to an exclusively “charitable” community trust. They’re not in any particular order and they don’t address the fundamental conflict of interest of the “ordinary” beneficiaries and those community and charitable grant beneficiaries.
A canvas of all the beneficiaries for their suggestions for restructuring.
Creating a beneficiary led steering group
Providing real and factual background information
Professionally facilitated beneficiary workshops and focus groups
Flyers in with the power bills
Information on all grant recipient and charitable entity recipient websites and facebook pages
Posters and paper takeaways at supermarkets and TECT supported venues
Stalls and pop ups at TECT funded events
TECT office information open days
Local media hardcopy inserts/fullpage informationals
Newspaper articles local media
A YouTube channel with ongoing information sharing
Organised informational telephone calls to beneficiaries
A specific facebook group
Dedicated consultation website section
A hardcopy monthly information-sharing newsletter (again could go in with powerbills)
Independent legal representation
Professionally facilitated public meetings
There’s a line in the sand. One side is before the proposal is formulated and the other is after the proposal is formulated. It’s the first part of the process that is the consultation. If you exclude your community from the first part, the second part is merely feedback for a DAD.
Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. She purchases her power from Trustpower and is a beneficiary of the Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.
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