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The Press-News column Mar 31

The Raf Factor.

He’s the bolter, the bloodhound, the big-hitter. And he is fast stapling his presence onto the city’s consciousness. Cr. Raf Manji, the most impressive newcomer to council, wasn’t elected to office with a pasteurised set of opinions from party central or enslaved to a rigid ideology. He is an independently-minded raging pragmatist, spear-heading the drive for better performance and fiscal restraint. The hear-no-evil, see-no-evil culture of conceited mediocrity is what sunk the previous council regime. Its prime adversary was the fearless first-term tiger, Cr. Tim Carter. Manji appears to have picked up the baton from Carter, bringing the same financial rigour and razor-sharp scrutiny to the table. Take the past fortnight, for example. Cr. Manji has publicly grilled council staff for failing to adopt any measures against feckless freedom campers. The council has had the power to regulate freedom camping for two years. Two years, amigos! Manji has blasted their “dithering” as “just ridiculous.” Virtually every South Island territorial council has actioned freedom camping bylaws, except Christchurch. You’ll notice the signs, when you’re road-tripping around the island. I think Queenstown-Lakes District Council has struck the right balance. Freedom camping in non self-contained vehicles is banned outright. Wicked camper vans and their dubious ilk must go to holiday parks and camping sites. Yet self-contained camper vans, can freedom camp in designated areas, which are generally away from town centres and residential areas. Since the bylaw was actioned in December 2012, Queenstown, Wanaka and Arrowtown have spectacularly tackled the blight of fouling freedom campers. Meanwhile in Christchurch, the cheapskates will park up overnight by the Peterborough St Library, dump their filth and sponge off the free wi-fi. In addition to demanding staff get cracking on freedom camping, late last week, Raf Manji took aim at the council’s lack of “financial discipline” in the events business. Jodi Wright, the artistic director of the World Buskers Festival, is an immensely likeable and savvy operator. But the previous council sure swallowed the bait when she dangled the possibility of the event and her expertise being snapped up by another city. Reportedly, the ratepayer forked out $400,000 to “buy” the festival. Yet, for the past 14 years, Auckland stages the International Buskers Festival, straight after our gig, with many of the same faces popping up. So what exactly did we buy? And why indeed does the Buskers cost so many millions to stage? Christchurch residents love this feel-good summer festival. A sacred cow it may be, but why should the council continue being auto-pumped like a cash cow, for ever-demanding funding support? Raf Manji is the embodiment of refreshingly good governance.

Mike Yardley’s current affairs column in The Press. First published on March 31.

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