Like Some Central African Dictatorship


Swimming Wellington AGM?

I see Swimming Wellington has finally had to front up to the accusation that the composition of their Board is illegal. On 5 September 2018 Swimming Wellington (SW) distributed 139 pages announcing the Annual General Meeting. Most of that incredible amount of paperwork was devoted to an explanation and defence of SW’s bad behaviour.

There is a huge number of words spent arguing about dates and the number of Board members and the meaning of various clauses in the SW and Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) constitutions. But all of it boils down to a debate between three lawyers. On the one hand Eugene Collins and Paul Radich agree that the details of when and how the SW Board first operated outside their constitution can be debated. The fact that they are operating illegally now cannot be disputed. Furthermore they agree that the illegal composition of the SW Board puts in doubt the legality of decisions made while the Board was illegal and raises issues about whether any Region’s constitution is compatible with SNZ’s central constitution. Looks like Moller and Miskimmin may not have been too good at making sure their thirst for power was legally sound.

On the other hand, lawyer, Michael Smyth, argues that things are not nearly as bad as that. But before explaining why, he spends a page explaining how he personally had nothing to do with the preparation of two possibly flawed constitutions. I love these guys who have to cover their arse; there’s nothing wrong here, but if there is it had nothing to do with me. I have little respect for that behaviour. He then goes on to explain why the dates and number and constitutional clauses used by Collins and Radich are open to question. He even attempts to defend the apparent contradiction between the SNZ and SW constitutions.

In these conflicting views, I tend to believe Collins and Radich. Why? Because Smyth’s explanation sounds way too much like defending the indefensible to me. Smyth’s opinion gives me the impression of searching for any clause or use of words within a clause that can be used to justify an illegal Board. In my opinion his report is not an unbiased overview but a defence paper that can be used by SW and SNZ to diminish their bad behaviour and stunningly bad management. As sure as God made little green apples I’m picking that’s exactly what SW and SNZ will use the Smyth paper for.

But the paragraph in the 139 pages that did attract my attention was the SW reference to Swimwatch. Here is what the CEO said.

15 Personal Statement from Board Members

In relation to this constitutional issue, the Board has, in published online media, been accused of corruption, untrustworthiness, and running the sport “like some central African dictatorship”, among other hyperbole and sensationalised commentary.

Such accusations are hurtful, untrue, and almost unworthy of response.  Except that the explicit and implied attacks on the personal integrity, character and reputation of Board members, both current and former, cannot go unanswered and undefended.

In the strongest possible terms, the Board comprehensively rejects all such accusations.

The Board carries out its work in good faith in what it believes to be the best interests of the sport at all times and takes its responsibilities to all members seriously.  The Board calls on all members not to tolerate such abusive, disrepectful and destructive attitudes in our sport.  They are not consistent with the manner in which the Board carries out its responsibilities, nor with the values of Swimming Wellington.

Should such personal attacks continue, the future of our sport and the governance of our organisation’s activities may be jeopardised.  Future and current Board members may be discouraged from volunteering their time, professionalism, expertise and skills for the good of the sport in the face of hateful and malicious attitudes that compromise personal and professional reputations.

The Board is hopeful that this personal statement to members will be the end of the matter, but felt it worthy of bringing to the attention of members at the Annual General Meeting in the spirit of transparency and accountability.

I love these guys who find throwing insults at a critic more rewarding that addressing the complaint the critic is making. They get into “abusive, disrespectful and destructive attitudes” without once recognising that Swimwatch said, ages ago, that they were operating illegally and now they have been caught a long way up a very turbulent creek without a paddle. SNZ and SW have forever found it more rewarding to play the man, not the ball. And it shows in much that they do.

The point here is not whether Swimwatch is turning officials away from serving on the SW Board. The point is whether the illegal behaviour of the SW Board frightens any sane observer away. Who on earth would want to expose themselves to the personal risks involved in serving on an illegally constituted Board? That is the real question.

But the phrase that appears to have upset SW the most is the comparison, used in Swimwatch, with central African dictatorships – “like some central African dictatorship”. Let me explain why that is a valid and appropriate comparison.

Since the 1990s, at least 30 presidents in sub-Saharan African nations have tried to extend their regimes past their constitutional limits. These “constitutional coups” are a way to cement power. Between 2005 and 2015, presidents in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Congo Republic, Congo, Uganda and Rwanda attempted to extend their terms in office. Any opposition especially from the press was strenuously resisted. The press became the enemy accused of “abusive, disrespectful and destructive attitudes”.

It is difficult to see how that is all that different from what has gone on in SW. There has undoubtedly been an effort to operate outside constitutional limits and now the game is up, now they have been caught with their pants down, it’s all the fault of Swimwatch – yeah right. As I said just “like some central African dictatorship”.

Has is ever occurred to SW that they are in their current situation because they behaved like “like some central African dictatorship”?

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