Politics through a crystal ball, palmistry, or chicken entrails?
In a somewhat weak attempt to allay fears over National’s stated intention to partially-privatise several state assets, Bill English has stated that he “believes only 10 to 15 per cent will initially go to overseas buyers”.
However, tellingly, National refuses to actually pass any legislation to prevent this from happening;
National says it will “cap” single investor’s holding to 10%.
But National refuses to explain how it will engineer this “cap”.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a corporation could easily employ five “shelf companies“, each buying a block of 10% of the shares. These “dummy” companies would each own a block of shares – in name only. The parent company – owning each dummy company – would be the real owner.
Result: a foreign corporation owning a sizeable chunk of each SOE.
Case in point: Contact Energy.
In 1996, Contact Energy was split of from it’s parent SOE, Electricity Corporation of New Zealand and fully privatised in 1999 as part of the then-National Government’s plan to “reform” the energy sector and make it more “competitive”. Energy Minister, Max Bradford,. assured New Zealand that the splitting up of ECNZ, and privatisation of Contact Energy, would introduce competition and drive prices down.
The opposite actually occurred and power prices doubled during the following decade.
When Contact Energy was privatised in 1999, 40% of the publicly offered shares were purchased by Edison Mission Energy. That 40% was subsequently increased to 51%. Edison Mission started with a minority shareholding – which was soon increased to a majority sharehold. (Starting to sound familiar?)
In 2004, Edison Mission sold it’s 51% stake to Australian company, Origin Energy.
“The terms of this float were such that sharebrokers earned a greater commission from issuing shares to overseas shareholders than they did from issuing them to local shareholders. Many of the shares went to shareholders overseas (Gaynor, 1999). After the float, Gaynor assessed Contact as about 62% overseas owned.” Source
In reality, despite “assuring noises” made by Bill English and John Key, there is no way to prevent much of the proposed 49% sell-off of the SOEs, from falling into foreign ownership. This will not help New Zealand’s balance of payments, as profits are repatriated overseas, to offshore investors. It will mean that our most critically strategic assets will have owners who have no interest in New Zealand, except as a source of profits.
And importantly, we will lose approximately half of the profits made by these SOEs.
In 1999, Max Bradford promised New Zealanders that power prices would be “driven down” by competition.
That promise failed to materialise.
This year, English and Key promise that “only 10% to 15%” of shares will go to overseas investors.
Do we believe them sufficiently to “tick National” at this year’s general election?
I certainly will not.