The approach by successive governments to Maori economic development is a triumph of hope over understanding and experience. More darkly, it’s the triumph of politics over what is good and just.
The policy is to pump tribalism as a viable form of economic organisation. The tribal structures themselves would hardly exist outside of state mandate and massive subsidy.
The result is a long list of constitutional outrages and economic sabotage. The latest is the legislative chicanery to enable multiple iwi authorities to invite themselves into co-governance with local councils that as reported last week by National Business Review columnist Michael Coote.
The problem is straightforward: tribalism is the worst form of economic organisation. It’s collectivist, it lacks incentive to perform, the principals can’t readily sack their agents, and there’s invariably a complete lack of transparency and hence accountability.
The structure works to the advantage of tribal bosses, not members.
In modern society that shouldn’t matter but the state’s mandating and subsidising of tribes gives tribal bosses financial and political clout that they otherwise would not enjoy.
It was bad when tribes were being fattened with Treaty settlements but, as Mr Coote well describes, tribal leaders are now being granted unaccountable power through co-governance arrangements. Their political and economic clout extends beyond the tribe.
There’s also a despicable loop as tribal leaders back MPs in the race-based seats who in turn back the tribal leaders. The co-governance arrangements of latest concern were introduced at the behest of the Maori Party after public submissions were heard.
The Maori Party is supported by tribal leaders and, in return, supports the tribal leaders.
There should be no surprise in this: tribalism stands in direct opposition to democracy and capitalism.
It’s the nature of politics to think in terms of groups from polling through to lobby groups and interest groups. It’s easy to “meet with Maori” when there are pumped up tribal leaders. The very concept of meeting with European New Zealanders is a nonsense.
The individuals of the tribe in such fashion are politically and financially disempowered.
The endless push and move centimeter by centimeter to co-governance is entrenching power and corrupting the body politic. Not least, there is a complete conflict of interests between a tribe engaging in business while occupying a privileged position deciding both the use of natural resources and town planning process. Politics, tribal politics, and business are hopelessly intertwined and conflicted.
It’s easily fixed. Tribal member should be allocated fully tradeable shares in their tribal financial interests. That would ensure transparency and accountability. The members would be empowered, not the bosses.
The favoured legal status of the tribes in resource planning would not be politically sustainable. Our politics would also be cleaned up. It won't happen: the present failed and corrupt arrangement suits politicians and tribal leaders all too well.
First published in the National Business Review on March 24, 2017.