Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Submissions for sale

Have people learned nothing about the Resource Management Act after fifteen years of its imposition?

I've heard outrage everywhere about the news that the Department of Conservation took money to shut down its opposition to the Project Hayes wind farm in the South Island’s Lammermoor Range.

Words like “bribe” and “hush money” have been used.  People are outraged.  “It's venal, cowardly, and corrupt," Dunedin conservationist Dave Witherow said. "What we are encouraging is a culture of bribery," the Project Hayes objector said.  "To be blunt, [it] was about buying silence to avoid political embarrassment," says Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Morgan Williams.

Where have these people been?

The Resource Management Act actively encourages corruption.  It encourages a culture of bribery. It incites it.  It makes it normal.  If people are given a “right” to object to what you do on your property, then ipso facto they have a right they’re able to sell.  And they have been.

  • That neighbour who “objects” to your extensions, but can be bought off with a bottle (or three) of wine.
  • The iwi who discover taniwhas at the bottom of your garden, which disappear after judicious application of JP Morgan’s salve.
  • The environmental group who suddenly discovers after an ex gratia payment (offered “without prejudice”) that the native snails/mangroves/sand dunes they’d been bound to protect will be fine after.
  • The historic places trust, who agree to drop their objections in return for a range of mitigation measures … and a cheque for $179,000.
  • The government department who are “legally obliged to protect the environment” whose concerns about access, visual impact, and falcons who might be hit by turbine blades, are assuaged by the payment of $125,000.

The RMA positively encourages groups like these to use the process as a meal ticket – where anywhere else this would be called blackmail.  It positively encourages planners to play both sides of the fence – where anywhere else it would be called corruption.

Have people learned nothing about the Resource Management Act after fifteen years?

It’s a case study of what happens when you expand “rights” beyond those that are legitimate.

Which is to say, it’s another classic case study of non-objective law.


  1. The funniest case of bribery I am aware of was in World War 2.

    The Japanese were attacking the Philippines and President Manuel Quezon wanted to evacuate; he approached General Macarthur for safe passage out of the country when Macarthur (never one to miss a trick) politely asked for and received $500,000 in 'readies'.

    Quezon was horrified at the suggestion to which Macarthur shrugged his shoulders and mentioned how spending several years in a Japanese prison camp surely cannot be all that bad...and 24 hours later the money turned up in his bank account.

  2. In the public choice literature, we call this "rent extraction"....


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