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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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The illusions under which we live

5 Dec 2023

Regular readers will be aware that I've had a battle with the local council recently.

It was during this battle I became aware of just how much of an illusion we are living under -- when it comes to the accountability of "the powers that be".

In a just and fair society, those in positions of power would be held to account whenever they breached their mandates or weilded that power inappropriately.

Sadly, although you might think this is the case, the reality seems to be that all the mechanisms apparently put in place to protect "the average citizen" against such things are merely an illusion.

Allow me to explain...

On the face of things, our system has a number of mechanisms that should be empowered to hold those in power to account and censure them for any abuses of the power they weild.

Examples of such protective mechanisms could be The Ombudsman, The Privacy Commissioner and others.

Sadly, it seems that although such entities exist and purport to be watchdogs that operate on behalf of the general public, they are in fact toothless wonders.

For example, when the CAA violated not only my privacy (by sending personal data to a completely unrelated third party without authority to do so), there was nothing the Privacy Commissioner could do by way of sanction.

Likewise when the same government agency violated the privacy of hundreds of other people from around the world in a botched mass emailing, the Privacy Commissioner advised me that all they could do was find fault but they could not issue any censure -- that was beyond their power.

Even the might of the Ombudsman is similarly just an illusion, seemingly designed to create the perception that those in power who might act unreasonably will be censured for such things. That's not actually how it works at all.

If the Ombudsman finds fault, it seems that all they can do is talk sternly. He has no power to censure or prescribe penalties.

It is no wonder therefore, that our local council remains happy to tell bald-faced lies, not only to me but to people from all over the world who have challenged them on their recent diktats.

I found it amusing that even when one of their own (a former councilor) roundly criticised them at the last meeting and warned them of the huge level of "reputational damage" they risked as a result of other bad actions, they remained totally unconcerned.

This former councilor also pointed out that they were engaged in the very actions that the Ombudsman has already declared as unacceptable -- but the SWDC was not worried because they know that no censure or penalties would be levied upon them by that toothless wonder.

Herein lies the real problem with the way our systems are structured right now.

Those who make the rules take care of their own.

In order to placate the masses, they create so-called "watchdogs" who are actually more like lapdogs.

Yes, you can complain to these fake overseers but they are a sop to justice.

When the GCSB spied on Kiwis, fault was found but no censure or penalty was levied against those who gave the orders to do so.

When Kim Dotcom and his family were held at gunpoint whilst police ransacked his home, fault was found but no censure or penalty was levied against those who committed those acts.

When the Ombudsman investigated multiple councils for abusing the "public excluded" option and the use of "workshops" to circumvent transparent democracy fault was found but no penalties were available to be enacted against those found in breach.

This is exactly why the SWDC laughed at their former colleague and actually attacked him for daring to break ranks. They know that, even in the wake of the Ombudsman's report, there will be no repercussions for flagrantly violating the codes they swore to operate under.

In short, the public is being duped into thinking that there is some kind of higher authority looking out for their interests when in fact it's all just a charade designed to create the illusion that some protection is available.

This must change.

Until such time as totally independent oversight is implemented and those authorities charged with this role have the power to issue very real and effective penalties for wrong-doing then we're just kidding ourselves that things will improve.

Carpe Diem folks!

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