As a result of a democratic decision – albeit with a very narrow margin of five votes – by the membership at the recent special general meeting, the Otago Natural History Trust has a new constitution that differs significantly from the one it replaces.
The most important change is that the board can now appoint three full trustees without reference to the membership. This means that the trust is no longer a fully democratic organisation, and has thus lost the main characteristic that distinguished it from the governing bodies of other fenced wildlife sanctuaries in New Zealand.
The changes were brought about to enable the board to appoint a trustee from Kati Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki, the local iwi, so that the runaka would be represented regardless of who occupied the six trustee positions elected by the membership at an AGM. The board argued that the changes would also enable the appointment of representatives of other organisations that might be important to the governance of Orokonui Ecosanctuary in the future. Time will tell.
Appointments to the board must be accompanied by a Memorandum of Understanding that sets out the rights and responsibilities of the two parties but, again, the membership has no oversight of the content of the MoU. The board claims that another new rule will ensure that elected trustees will always be in the majority at board meetings, thus protecting the board from undue pressure from appointed trustees. Once more, time will tell.
The board may also appoint advisors, who will not have voting rights. This formalises the existing arrangement whereby outside expertise has been called on to assist the board at its meetings.
Given that nearly half the membership as represented at the special general meeting were opposed to the change, it’s reasonable to suggest that a substantial number of Orokonui supporters will be worried about the outcome. This blog will be maintained to provide a critical appraisal of the activities of the new board, both to give the board the opportunity to show that its objectives were genuinely to improve the governance of Orokonui, and to make public any indications that they were not.