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Posts Tagged ‘Solid Energy’

Mediaworks, Solid Energy, and National Standards

17 June 2013 2 comments

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Solid Energy looking to sell Southland land

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ – TV3’s owners in receivership

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Stupidity heaped upon government incompetence – there is no other way to describe the fiasco that Solid Energy has become since National took office in 2008. Whether it was National Ministers  encouraging Solid Energy to expand their operations during a time of  recession or  forcing it to borrow huge sums and then pay it to the National government as “dividends” – Key, English, Joyce, et al have a lot to answer for.

It is not often that a government will run a SOE into the ground and then blame others for their incompetance. (See previous blogpost: Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys )

News that Solid Energy may be planning to sell 3,500 hectares of land, and which may be purchased by offshore investors, is the final humiliation.

At this stage, I will make the following point;

  1. I don’t care if a foreign purchaser resides in Boston, Berlin, or Beijing. The negative economic consequences to New Zealand are all the same.
  2. Rightwingers maintain that it doesn’t matter if the land is sold into foreign ownership; “no one can take it away”. But that’s not the point. It’s not the land that is removed – but the profits  generated for owners. It is dividends  to overseas investors that can be “taken away”, thereby reducing our income; worsening our balance of payments; and ultimately pushing up interest rates.
  3. Land sales to overseas investors denies the birthright of  all New Zealanders to participate in land based enterprises. It is difficult for young people to buy a farm when competing with wealthy  investors from Boston, Berlin, or Beijing. In the end, those young New Zealand may end up tenants in our own country – which Dear Leader himself said was not desirable (see: PM warns against Kiwis becoming ‘tenants’ ).

The most common sense solution to this problem (I refuse to call it an “issue”) is simple and straightforward.

If local buyers cannot be found, the land should be transferred to SOE Landcorp, to hold it in stewardship. Good, productive farmland could be later sold/leased to young New Zealanders who want to get on the first rung of the ladder to farm ownership.

Selling/leasing to the next generation of New Zealanders – our children – is a sound way to give them opportunities in our own country.

Why we would deny them that birthright and instead prefer to sell to faceless foreign investors, sitting in offices halfway around the word, defies understanding.

As Bruce Jesson said in his book, about the neo-liberal mentality to sell off everything to the highest bidder, and bugger  the consequences; Only their Purpose is Mad.

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MediaWorks in receivership

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – MediaWorks in receivership

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It is a great shame that Mediaworks is in this position. Their flagship broadcaster, TV3, has raised the quality and standard of programming in this country. Unlike the mediocre rubbish on state-owned TVNZ, TV3 has treated the viewer with a fair measure of respect.

Programmes like Campbell Live, Outrageous Fortune, and Inside Child Poverty have been nuggets of gold at a time when mainstream media is dumbing down faster than John Banks’ integrity post-Skycity and Dotcom donations scandal.

This leftwing blogger wishes the company all the best for the future; fervantly hopes that no one loses their job; and looks forward to more high-quality programming  from TV3.

See more at The Daily Blog by Selwyn Manning: Breaking News: New Company Newco Positions To Purchase MediaWorks Off Receivers

Breaking News: New Company Newco Positions To Purchase MediaWorks Off Receivers – See more at: http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2013/06/17/breaking-news-tv3-radiolive-owners-mediaworks-has-gone-into-receivership/#sthash.YBRLNczb.dpuf

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Teachers to boycott trial of national standards computer system

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ – Teachers to boycott trial of national standards computer system

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The biggest problem and greatest threat from National Standards is the American phenomenon, “Teaching to Tests”. As Gordon Campbell wrote, four years ago when National Standards were first mooted by the Nats,

The main risk is that national testing will foster mechanical ways of assessing of children’s learning, as teachers get pressured into ‘teaching to the test’ – thus narrowing what they teach, and fuelling a focus on simplistic measuring rather than on creating a richer, and more child-oriented environment.

Quite simply, what this means is that for schools to “look good” in league tables (another right wing invention that inevitably follows National Standards), they will be pressured to teach  students solely to answer tests. Nothing more, nothing less.

Because otherwise, a school risks looking poorly in National Standards results. Couple this with “performance related pay”, and “teaching to the test” to guarantee a high ranking in League Tables, becomes a dead cert.

Parents should not only be worried – they should be downright angry. This undermines our education system and turns it into a farce. Kids become expert at answering tests – but not much more. Problem-solving, initiative, increased knowledge, and even more tradition curricula, become secondary.

Because, really, if we’re going to have “performance related pay”, then teachers will make damn sure that their school doesn’t fall behind in any National Standard and subsequent League Table.

Interestingly, China, Sth Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong are also at the top of the OECD PISA scale.  International education scholar, Yong Zhao (see bio here), pointed out why in December 2010;

… China has become the best education nation, or at least according to some experts and politicians. Chinese students (a sample from Shanghai) outscored 64 countries/education systems on the most recent PISA, OECD’s international academic assessment for 15 year olds in math, reading, and science…

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I don’t know why this is such a big surprise to these well educated and smart people. Why should anyone be stunned? It is no news that the Chinese education system is excellent in preparing outstanding test takers, just like other education systems within the Confucian cultural circle—Singapore, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong…

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That’s the secret: when you spend all your time preparing for tests, and when students are selected based on their test-taking abilities, you get outstanding test scores.

Acknowledgement:  A True Wake-up Call for Arne Duncan: The Real Reason Behind Chinese Students Top PISA Performance

Is this education?. Or is this a  corruption of education and turning our children into mass-trained cogs, able to pass tests, but not much more in terms of free-thinking and expanding knowledge?

Make no mistake. This is setting us up for failure in the decades to come.

Perhaps, instead we should be looking at the Finnish experience,

In his country, Dr. Darling-Hammond said later in an interview, teachers typically spend about four hours a day in the classroom, and are paid to spend two hours a week on professional development. At the University of Helsinki, where he teaches, 2,400 people competed last year for 120 slots in the (fully subsidized) master’s program for schoolteachers. “It’s more difficult getting into teacher education than law or medicine,” he said.

Dr. Sahlberg puts high-quality teachers at the heart of Finland’s education success story — which, as it happens, has become a personal success story of sorts, part of an American obsession with all things Finnish when it comes to schools…

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Both Dr. Darling-Hammond and Dr. Sahlberg said a turning point was a government decision in the 1970s to require all teachers to have master’s degrees — and to pay for their acquisition. The starting salary for school teachers in Finland, 96 percent of whom are unionized, was about $29,000 in 2008, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, compared with about $36,000 in the United States.

More bear than tiger, Finland scorns almost all standardized testing before age 16 and discourages homework, and it is seen as a violation of children’s right to be children for them to start school any sooner than 7, Dr. Sahlberg said during his day at Dwight. He spoke to seniors taking a “Theory of Knowledge” class, then met with administrators and faculty members.

“The first six years of education are not about academic success,” he said. “We don’t measure children at all. It’s about being ready to learn and finding your passion.”

Acknowledgement: New York Times – From Finland, an Intriguing School-Reform Model

Solutions?

1. Don’t vote for National in 2014.

2. Look at Finland for our answers to improve education – not the US which is lower on the OECD PISA ranking than us. (Finland is near the top.)

3. Be wary of simplistic rightwing agendas.

Other Blogs

Gordon Campbell: National Education Tests, And Michael Jackson

The Political Scientist:  National Standards and Neanderthals – “They will know what is required …” – Part I

The Political Scientist: National Standards and Neanderthals – “They will know what is required …” – Part II

The Political Scientis: National Standards and Neanderthals – “They will know what is required …” – Part III

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Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys

14 June 2013 4 comments

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Cast of Charachters

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Clayton Cosgrove, Labour Spokesperson on State Owned Enterprises

Clayton Cosgrove, MP, Opposition  Labour Spokesperson on State Owned Enterprises

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Don Elder, CEO, Solid Energy, May 2000 – February 2013

Don Elder, CEO, Solid Energy, 2000 – 2013; avid gardener

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Bill English, MP, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister for Infrastructure,  Ministerial Shareholder of Solid Energy

Bill English, MP, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister for Infrastructure, Ministerial Shareholder in Solid Energy

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Mark Ford, current chairman of Solid Energy

Mark Ford, current chairman of Solid Energy

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John Palmer, CEO Solid Energy, 2006 -

John Palmer, former Chairman of  Solid Energy, 2006 – 2012

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Simon Power, former MP; former Minister for State-Owned Enterprises, 19 November 2008 – April 2011

Simon Power, former MP; former Minister for State-Owned Enterprises, 19 November 2008 – April 2011

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Tony Ryall, MP, Minister for Health; current Minister for SOEs; Ministerial shareholder in Solid Energy

Tony Ryall, MP, Minister for Health; current Minister for SOEs; Ministerial shareholder in Solid Energy

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Dear Leader, Minister for Funny Hats, Minister for Truth

Dear Leader, Minister for Funny Hats, Minister for Truth

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The story, thus far

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30 June 2008

Nil dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2008.

Source: 2008 Annual Report

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8 November 2008

General Election

National-led government elected.  John Key becomes  New Zealand’s Prime Minister; Simon Power is Minister for State Owned Enterprises; Bill English becomes Minister for Finance.

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May 2009

“The Government, in its first term, looked at SOE [state owned enterprise] balance sheets and decided many of them could carry more debt… it made a decision to allow Solid Energy to take on more debt,” Mr English said.

Mr English acknowledged that in 2009 he signed a letter to Solid Energy approving a higher debt level.

Source:  Solid Energy was allowed to increase debt

The letter, as follows,

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letter from Simon Power to solid energy may 2009

Source: CCMAU & Treasury

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Thus was set in motion a decision that would have serious consequences four years later; the near collapse of an efficient and highly profitable State Owned Enterprise.

Not only did Minister Power demand higher dividends from Solid Energy, and instructed the SOE to borrow heavily  to achieve that goal, Power also demanded that Solid Energy “release all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends“.

In case the reader is wondering that that means, in plain english, National Ministers wanted all spare cash to be handed over to the government.

They were looting SOEs.

Accordingly, Solid Energy’s gearing ratio rose from 13.8% cent in 2009 to 41.7% by 2012. National’s demands had been met (see: Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told ).

Mission accomplished – the pillaging of Solid Energy (and other SOEs)  had begun.

Note: On 26 February 2013, John Key would try to insist that Solid Energy was “out of control” and was borrowing wildly.

He would say, “the Government was worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans and rosy view of coal prices as far back as 2009 but was unable to order the company to steer a safer course.”

So not only did SOE Minister Simon Power direct Solid Energy to borrow more; pay higher dividends; and hand over all spare cash – but four years later, Key would blame the coal company for the consequences;  it’s inevitable financial melt-down,

The causes of the financial crisis at Solid Energy are the usual suspects in failing businesses – too much debt, unsuccessful investments and no reserves to weather a slump in coal prices.

Prime Minister John Key’s comments yesterday indicated these problems and pointed the finger at an imprudent amount of debt and investments that have not returned any cash yet.

Key said the debt had climbed to $389 million when “typically coal companies do not have a lot of debt on their balance sheets”.

Source: State miner to return to coalface

Powers’ letter also put the lie to National ministers claiming that they were powerless to intervene in Solid Energy’s activities. As Simon Powers’ letter clearly demonstrated, Ministers were  exhibiting a total hands-on control over SOE’s finances, borrowings, investments, and dividend payments.

As Key himself claimed (without evidence) on 25 February 2013,

The government blocked proposals in 2009 from its coal mining company Solid Energy for a billion dollar capital injection to allow it to become “the Petrobras of this country,” Prime Minister John Key says.

National ministers had control alright, no two ways about it.

Power might as well have been sitting in Solid Energy’s Christchurch head office, in the CEO’s chair, with  his fingers in the cash register till.

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30 June 2009

$59.9 million dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2009.

Source: 2009 Annual Report

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30 June 2010

$54 million dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2010.

Solid Energy paid a dividend of $24 million on 30 September 2009. In accordance with the company’s dividend policy, the Board is proposing a dividend of $30 million to be paid by the end of March 2010 bringing total cash dividends paid during the current financial year to $54 million.

Source: Small half year loss for Solid Energy

Source: 2010 Annual Report

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27 August 2010

Treasury Report shoots down Solid Energy National Resource Company’s expansion  proposal

To: Bill English, Gerry Brownlee, Simon Power, Steven Joyce

5. In order for SEL to develop into a NRC, SEL has sought the following:

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• indicative approval for total capital investment (including dividends and cash flow)
of $2-3 billion per annum with cumulative investment of $27 billion…

Source: Treasury Report: Solid Energy National Resource Company Response

Note the figure referred above: $27 billion.  Two and a half years later, Key would refer to that figure.

The question is, does the statement – “SEL [Solid Energy Ltd] has sought the following: indicative approval for total capital investment (including dividends and cash flow) of $2-3 billion per annum with cumulative investment of $27 billionactually state where the $27 billion would be sought from?

Answer: no.

And yet, by 15 March 2013, Key would insist that the Solid Energy chairman, John Palmer, sought $27 billion from the government.

See: Key says Solid Energy papers show $27b plan

John Key’s flexibility with truth is now legendary.

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8 September 2010

Then-SOE Minister Simon Power writes to Solid Energy – states support for developing resources –

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Office of Simon Power
MP for Rangitikei
Minister for Justice
Minister for State Owned Enterprises
Minister of Commerce
Minister Responsibilble for vthe Law Commission
Associate Minister of Finance
Deputy Leader of the House

08 SEP 2010

Mr John Palmer
Chair
Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd
PO Box 1303
CHRISTCHURCH 8140

Dear Mr Palmer

National Resource Company (NRC) Proposal

I would like to thank you and your Chief Executive, Don Elder, for meeting me
on 31 August 2010 to discuss the Government’s response to the Solid Energy
Ltd (Solid Energy) NRC proposal.

Ministers are encouraged by the vision of Solid Energy in developing the NRC
proposal. We also appreciate the efforts of the Solid Energy Board,
management and staff that have gone into preparing  the proposal.

Shareholding Ministers have carefully considered the proposal and at this stage
do not support the development of a single NRC to maximise the value of New
Zealand mineral resources.

Shareholding Mnisters are, however, supportive of Solid Energy developing its
current natural resources, including lignite and unconventional gas. As
discussed with you, we expect that Solid Energy will develop resources on a
project by project basis.

We also expect to be consulted on significant projects, and have the opportunity
to discuss the proposals with you. The proposals should be supported by a
business case and assessed against standard business case investment
criteria.

Yours sincerely

Hon Simon Power
Minister for State Owned Enterprises

cc: Don Elder, Chief Executive Officer, Solid Energy

Source: Letter from Simon Power to John Palmer (NZ Herald website)

Interesting…  The Minister, Simon Power,  was;

A. Supportive of Solid Energy “developing its current natural resources, including lignite and unconventional gas. As discussed with you, we expect that Solid Energy will develop resources on a project by project basis”. No reference whatsoever of the Minister directing Solid Energy not to invest  “developing its current natural resources“.

B. Insisting that he be kept advised  “on significant projects“.  It would be interesting to know if Solid Energy advised National ministers of all projects? Including the ones that have been heavily criticised by Key, English, and Ryall.

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3 June 2011

Key endorses Solid Energy expansion plans

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Prime Minister John Key speaks at the opening of the WHK building in Invercargill.

Prime Minister John Key speaks at the opening of the WHK building in Invercargill.

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“At the moment companies like Solid Energy are growth companies and we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion,” Mr Key said.

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“We know there is lots of resource there and we know they potentially have the capability [to convert lignite to urea or diesel] and so we will see how that progresses, but the briquette plant is a good starting point.”

Source: PM backs mining south’s lignite

Key is stating  with crystal clarity;  “we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion” and “…so we will see how that progresses, but the briquette plant is a good starting point“.

Which would be in stark contrast to Key’s statements nearly two years later, when  on 23 February 2013, he condemns Solid Energy’s “… unsuccessful investments” and  ” and pointed the finger at an imprudent amount of debt and investments that have not returned any cash yet”.

Two days later, on 25 February 2013, Keywould again condemn Solid Energy – this time specifically distancing himself from the SOE’s expansion plans,

The government blocked proposals in 2009 from its coal mining company Solid Energy for a billion dollar capital injection to allow it to become “the Petrobras of this country,” Prime Minister John Key says.

It’s hard to keep up with a Prime Minister like John Key.

You have to wonder what his views will be in three, six, or twelve months time?

Key also said  at his  Invercargill speech,

However, Mr Key said companies were controlled by Government regulations and so there were always environmental obligations that needed to be met.

Which, again, totally contradicts what he said on 26 February 2013,

The Government was worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans and rosy view of coal prices as far back as 2009 but was unable to order the company to steer a safer course, Prime Minister John Key says.

Stories, eh? They’re so hard to keep straight sometimes.

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30 June 2011

$20 million dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2011.

Source: 2011 Annual Report

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9 September 2011

Bill English – Don Elder – Opening new Mataura briquette plant

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Solid Energy chief executive, Don Elder and Hon Bill English at MatauraThe first sod has been turned in the construction of Solid Energy’s demonstration briquette plant near Mataura in Southland. This was undertaken on Friday September 9 by local MP, Bill English who is also Deputy-Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. (source)

Solid Energy chief executive, Don Elder and Hon Bill English at Mataura
The first sod has been turned in the construction of Solid Energy’s demonstration briquette plant near Mataura in Southland. This was undertaken on Friday September 9 by local MP, Bill English who is also Deputy-Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. (source)

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The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.The $25 million Mataura briquette plant is planned to start production by June 2012. It will produce up to 90,000 tonnes a year of low-moisture and higher-energy briquettes from about 150,000 tonnes of lignite mined from Solid Energy’s New Vale Opencast Mine and trucked to the Craig Road site. The plant will use technology developed in the USA by GTL Energy.

Source: Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant

Which demonstrated to anyone (if demonstration was needed) that National was in no doubt about Solid Energy’s expansionary plans.

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4 November 2011

Treasury Scoping study reveals Solid Energy’s financial problems to Government Ministers

Ministers were  officially  made aware of Solid Energy’s severe financial problems. This would not become public knowledge until  two years later,  on  21 February 2013.

See: Treasury Report T2011/2373: Solid Energy New Zealand Scoping Study Report

The Scoping Study is noteworthy on these points,

  1. The considerable  number of redacted items which the reader has no way of knowing what they refer to. They could be sensitive commercial data. Or they could refer to political matters.
  2. In Paragraph 36, the Report states, “The scoping study also recommends that Solid Energy should have no debt at the time of IPO.”
  3. In Paragraph 46, fourth item, the Report states, “Indentified that the company’s free cash flow has been reinvested in the business, particularly the Renewable Energy and New Developments. As a result  dividend payments to the government have been funded by increasing debt.”

In two sentences, Treasury has just confirmed what all the evidence has pointed to; “dividend payments to the government have been funded by increasing debt“.

The very same increased debt demanded by SOE Minister Simon Powers in his letter in May 2009.

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17 February 2012

Bill English – Asset Sales – Proceeds “just a guess”

Finance Minister Bill English is attracting political flak over suggestions that some figures in yesterday’s budget policy statement for the proceeds of share floats of state-owned enterprises were “a guess”.

The Government has long estimated that the sale of up to 49 per cent of five SOEs would collect between $5 billion and $7 billion.

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Mr English said the Treasury “had to pick a number” so they picked the mid-point of the range.

“If we did get $6 billion, that would be a gain of sale [of $800 million] which is just a product of the accounting.

“I just want to emphasise that it is not our best guess; it’s just a guess. It’s just to put some numbers in that look like they might be roughly right for forecasting purposes.

Source: English admits his SOE figures just a guess

Well. Now we know why it was “just a guess”.

Because by now, the Treasury scoping study on Solid Energy had revealed to National Ministers that the SOE’s finances were a mess. There was no way English could’ve responded to journalist’s queries without either telling the truth – or outright lying (which they do anyway, but he would’ve been caught out on this particular ‘porky’).

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18 May 2012

Subsidy on bio-diesel canned – Biodiesel New Zealand – Price increase for bio-diesel

National removed it’s subsidy on bio-diesel – which Solid Energy was producing through one of it’s subsidiaries, as part of it’s   expansion plans.

Biodiesel prices in Queenstown are likely to rise after a Government subsidy to develop production of the fuel was scrapped.

The subsidy, worth 42.5 cents a litre, was introduced by the National-led Government in 2008, but was not renewed in this year’s Budget.

The Queenstown Biodiesel Consortium has more than 20 companies running more than 70 commercial vehicles on the fuel.

The consortium’s provider, Allied Petroleum, is supplied by Biodiesel New Zealand, a Solid Energy subsidiary that makes the fuel out of canola seed and used cooking oil, in Christchurch.

Source: Biodiesel loses subsidy, prices to rise

This thoroughly  undermined Solid Energy’s business projections for income and profits, as they could no longer rely on the subsidy to produce bio-diesel on a viable basis.

So not only were National ministers stripping Solid Energy of it’s cash reserves and demanding higher and higher dividends – they were now tying it’s hands and undermining potentially profitable ventures.

A year later, on 22 February 2013, English (as well as Key and Ryall) would be blaming Solid Energy’s financial collapse on, “… a drop in world coal prices, and spen[ding] too much investigating other sources of energy”.

It would be safe to say that undermining a company’s commercial venture, by moving the goal posts half-way through, and changing rules,  is also not particularly helpful.

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23 June 2012

Solid Energy Chairperson, John Palmer resigns

John Palmer is quitting as chairman of state-owned Solid Energy because at the age of 65 he is unwilling to stay on and see it through to partial privatisation.

Mr Palmer, who is also chairman of Air New Zealand, took up a strong public position in calling for the partial privatisation of state-owned companies and he welcomed the government’s plan to sell down stakes in electricity companies and Solid Energy.

Source:  Solid Energy chairman quits over asset sales

Palmer  resigned some 18 months before his contract was due to expire. The question, as always, is,

Was he pushed?

Or did he jump?

Writing on 16 March 2013, Tracey Watkins suggested a Great Big Shove helped Mr Palmer on his merry way,

There is, of course, nothing unusual about SOE chairmen and chief executives being subjected to a lengthy interrogation. But it is rare for committees to offer a platform to SOE bosses who have been manoeuvred out of their jobs by the Government.

See: Solid questions still remain unanswered

I tend to agree with her. This has all the makings of a politically-inspired, fall-quietly-on-your-sword, exit.

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SOE Minister, Tony Ryall comments on Palmer’s resignation – Acknowledges company’s developments

State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall announced Mr Palmer’s departure from Solid Energy on Friday.

“While it is disappointing to lose such a senior director, I wish to recognise Mr Palmer’s commitment to the company since his appointment in 2006, and the developments the company has made under his leadership,” Mr Ryall said.

Source:  IBID

Two months later, Bill English would be announcing that Solid Energy had  “…some fairly substantial issues” and would not be saleable.

Another six months after that, and the sh*t would be hitting the Big Fan. “Fortuitously”, Palmer would have been long-gone by the time English announced that Solid Energy was insolvent and  $389 million in debt.

Palmer would return, however on 14 March 2013,  for an encore performance before the Commerce Select Committee, to answer some hard questions.

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30 June 2012

$ 30 million dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2012.

Source: 2012 Annual Report

Note that two months before English announced that  “Solid Energy faced “a number of commercial issues” and was “rethinking its business”, National ministers were  still taking dividends from Solid Energy.

Did English, Ryall, and Key not read the  2012 Annual Report which listed Solid Energy  posting a Net Profit after Taxation (NPAT) of  a  $40.2 million loss – on Page 2, under bold headlines, “FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE“???

Even though he maintains that “we wouldn’t be planning to float it any time soon”, they were still taking money out of what would prove to be a financially stricken company. This alone indicated that English and Ryall were being financially irresponsible in their role as Ministerial shareholders. As such,  Key was either ignorant of what was happening under his nose, or was irresponsible in not taking action.

Perhaps his adopted affectation as a “typical, non-political kiwi-bloke” who didn’t get his hands dirty with politics; grinned and shrugged off problems; and left matters to his sub-ordinates – had become a dangerous vulnerability for him? (See Tim Selwyn’s blogpost on John Key’s political/management style:  Rudderless Within The Great Game)

Either way, 30 June 2012 is an important date. This is when National Ministers should’ve known that something was seriously amiss.

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21 August 2012

English announces “issues” with Solid Energy

In August 2012, Bill English announced that Solid Energy had  “…some fairly substantial issues” and was not ready for sale.

Solid Energy “certainly isn’t” in shape for a partial sell-down, Finance Minister Bill English says.

English today said Solid Energy faced “a number of commercial issues” and was “rethinking its business”.

“We would only take any of these companies to the market if they are in good shape for investment and Solid Energy right now certainly isn’t. It’s got some fairly substantial issues that they have signalled. Whether it ends up being able to be floated would depend on whether they can get in suitable shape for public investors,” English said.

“We wouldn’t be planning to float it any time soon.

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English said Solid Energy needed to be in “considerably better shape than it is now” before it could be floated.”

Source: English: Solid Energy not ready for sale

Perhaps National Ministers should have keep their fingers out of  Solid Energy’s petty cash box?

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9 September 2012

Coalminers redundancies – $200 million revenue shortfall – first mention of a ‘bailout’

Steven Joyce says Government capital for Solid Energy has not been ruled out.

The minister met with the company’s group manager of coal on Friday to discuss the situation. Mr Joyce says he has not promised a bailout, but if Solid Energy has a good business plan there may be funding options.

“Ministers get approached by state-owned enterprises to invest capital at different times. The thing that they would be interested in would be what’s the reason for doing it and what’s the opportunity.

“There’s a number of things that are up in the air with Solid Energy’s business plan at the moment that they need to work through with the new chair.”

Source: No decision on Spring Creek workers – Solid Energy

If National bailed out Solid Energy, they would  – in effect – simply be returning the dividends and spare cash that Simon Powers demanded way back in May 2009.

It would not be “new” money. It would be giving back what was looted from Solid Energy’s coffers, as National desperately tried to balance the government’s books, and return to surplus by 2014/15.

This entire sad, incompetant, wasteful,  exercise has provided no  benefit to anyone. National Ministers have ended up looking inept, manipulative, deceitful, and grasping. All for what?

The sole outcome has been to damage the reputations of businessmen who were hired for their business acumen (and who had been successful in their own fields), and destroy the name of Solid Energy.

In a bizarre twist, by sending Solid Energy into near-bankruptcy, National successfully delayed the partial privatisation of that SOE. Something that asset-sale opponants would welcome with delight.

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21 February 2013

Solid Energy in crisis – debt revealed to the public

The depth of Solid Energy’s financial woes have been laid bare with the Government confirming the company is in talks with bankers over its debt levels.

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State-owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall said a number of factors had weighed against the company, in particular world coal prices dropping by 40 per cent.

“It is facing very serious financial challenges,” Ryall said.

Ryall declined to say whether Don Elder received a payout on his departure as chief executive on February 4.

Solid Energy’s debt stands at $389 million and its interim result, which is due shortly, will show additional losses.

Earlier this week Prime Minister John Key said it was very unlikely Solid Energy would be sold in the near future.

Source: Solid Energy in debt crisis talks

Time to duck – the poo has hit the fan.

Watch Ministers scurry for cover; invent fictitious tales; and blame anyone/anything they can think of. John Key’s fingers will be moving at supersonic speeds, pointing at others, to apportion blame.

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22 February 2013

English blames Solid Energy management, bonuses, coal price fall, and expansion projects

Mr English said Solid Energy’s woes have two primary causes: it failed to predict – and adjust to – a drop in world coal prices, and spent too much investigating other sources of energy.

“Four or five years ago they set out on a big programme of expenditure on alternative energy, including researching into lignite down south to coal gasification and other research-based speculation, and that hasn’t turned out the way they thought.”

Source:  No more bonuses at Solid Energy – English

And yet, English and former SOE Minister, Simon Power had actively encouraged Solid Energy to expand. (see comments 8 September 2010 and 3 June 2011)

But if there was a cause for Solid Energy’s financial woes, a $389 million debt most certainly accounted for most of it.

Even the most profitable, efficient, well-managed company will collapse if it is over-geared (borrowed too much) and too much capital is  extracted in dividends (as well as tax).

Therefore, when English blames Solid Energy’s problems on “world coal prices, and spen[ding] too much investigating other sources of energy”; and when Key and Ryall blame Labour; massive debt; bonuses; mis-management; etc – the facts  show otherwise.

.

.

23 February 2013

Key blames too much debt and unsuccessful investments

The causes of the financial crisis at Solid Energy are the usual suspects in failing businesses – too much debt, unsuccessful investments and no reserves to weather a slump in coal prices.

Prime Minister John Key’s comments yesterday indicated these problems and pointed the finger at an imprudent amount of debt and investments that have not returned any cash yet.

Key said the debt had climbed to $389 million when “typically coal companies do not have a lot of debt on their balance sheets”.

Which is  supreme irony – as nineteen days later, a letter will emerge showing that the former SOE minister, Simon Power,  instructed Solid Energy to borrow heavily and pay huge dividends to the National government. National was intent on using Solid Energy as a ‘cash cow’.

Source: State miner to return to coalface

.

.

25 February 2013

Prime Minister discloses Treasury scoping study of Solid Energy

The PM was asked when the government first became aware Solid Energy was accruing big debts, given that such businesses were not normally expected to take on large amounts of debt.

He replied that the government had undertaken a “scoping study” when they were preparing the formulation of the Mixed Ownership Model and that their examination of Solid Energy’s accounts at that time indicated a degree of poor investment, over-valuation of the expected price of coal–which neither the industry nor government agreed with—and related financial problems stemming from this.

Source: PM Press Conference Dominated by Solid Energy Debacle

.

Key claims Solid Energy wanted $1 billion cash injection

The government blocked proposals in 2009 from its coal mining company Solid Energy for a billion dollar capital injection to allow it to become “the Petrobras of this country,” Prime Minister John Key says.

Source: Govt blocked grandiose Solid Energy plans in 2009

Key’s claim is later rejected by ex-Chairman, John Palmer.

Documents released by Key – in an attempt to back up his claims – wound up shooting the Prime Minister in his foot. The documents do not show that Solid Energy (or it’s CEO or Board) asked National ministers for anything.  The documents show only that the government was informed that Solid Energy would have to borrow from somewhere.

As usual, Key had been bending facts to suit himself. (And he thought no one would notice?!?!)

.

.

26 February 2013

Ryall confirms Treasury  scoping study

Tony Ryall confirmed that the scoping study was carried out in “late 2011″,

Hon TONY RYALL: The member can repeat whatever he likes. The simple fact of the matter is when Ministers became aware of the issues raised in the scoping study at the end of 2011 we took the appropriate steps to address the issues that were raised. As the member knows, the company now has a new chair and new board, and we are currently dealing with the banks to resolve those issues.

Source: Parliament Hansards – State-owned Enterprises—Commercial Expertise

Despite that Treasury scoping study on 4 November 2011, National was still extracting dividends from Solid Energy, right up to 30 June 2012 ($ 30 million).

.

Key blames Labour

He said his support for the project in 2011 came four months before a scoping study revealed the true state of Solid Energy’s financial woes, and the former Labour government needed to take some responsibility for the situation.

“They can’t wash their hands that from 2003 on they were intimately involved when they purchased the land for lignite,” Key said.

Source: Govt forced to defend handling of Solid Energy

2003?

How far back does this man want to go in history as he tries to deflect responsibility for his government’s incompetance? It seems strange, but one gets the distinct feeling that John Key never learned how to take personal responsibility as a child.

Continually blaming others is not the mark of a mature individual. After a while, the public begins to notice.

.

Key blames Solid Energy’s expansion plans

Mr Key says his Government was cautious about Solid Energy’s expansion and said it could “take some baby steps”.

Really? Key’s government was “cautious”?

Funny, that’s not how it looked on 8 September 2010, when then-SOE Minister, Simon Power, endorsed Solid Energy’s expansion plans in a letter, stating,

Shareholding Mnisters are, however, supportive of Solid Energy developing its
current natural resources, including lignite and unconventional gas. As
discussed with you, we expect that Solid Energy will develop resources on a
project by project basis.

Or on 3 June 2011, when John Key supported Solid Energy’s expansion, when he gave a speech in Invercargill,

“At the moment companies like Solid Energy are growth companies and we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion.

We know there is lots of resource there and we know they potentially have the capability [to convert lignite to urea or diesel] and so we will see how that progresses, but the briquette plant is a good starting point.”

Or on 9 September 2011, when,

The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.

.

Key blames inability to control Solid Energy

The Government was worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans and rosy view of coal prices as far back as 2009 but was unable to order the company to steer a safer course, Prime Minister John Key says.

[...]

But after getting advice on the company’s plan, Mr Key said his Government rejected it, “but of course under the SOE Act the company had the right to draw down debt and make investments and could do that without reference to the shareholder”.

Source: Govt worried about Solid Energy in 2009

Two things jump out about that statement,

A.  If  National ministers were so “worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans ” – why did they not change the Board of Directors? Or issue a new Ministerial Directive?

After all, Simon Power did just that in a letter dated 8 September 2010 (see above), when he issued an instruction to Solid Energy’s Chairman, John Palmer, not to proceed with a specific expansion plan,

Shareholding Ministers have carefully considered the proposal and at this stage
do not support the development of a single NRC to maximise the value of New
Zealand mineral resources.

B. Why did Tony Ryall acknowledge “Mr Palmer’s commitment to the company since his appointment in 2006, and the developments the company has made under his leadership” on 23 June 2012, when John Palmer stood down as Solid Energy’s chairperson – if  “Government was worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans and rosy view of coal prices as far back as 2009…“?

C.  How can Key state that “the Government was … unable to order the company to steer a safer course” - when legislation states otherwise? As the Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit (COMU) states,

Most SOEs are subject to ministerial direction in relation to the content of certain aspects of the company’s Statement of Corporate Intent and the level of dividend payable to the Crown. Shareholding Ministers may remove board members by shareholder resolution under the Companies Act 1993. Under the Companies Act 1993, an alternative process may be followed if allowed by the company’s constitution.

Source: COMU: State-Owned Enterprises

As stated above, then-SOE Minister Simon Power did just that: issued a Ministerial Directive.

Of course, “steering the company to a safer course” should have included reducing National Minister’s demands for hefty dividends.

That might have helped.

Either Key is grossly ignorant about SOEs and their ministerial oversight – or once again he’s deliberately misleading the public to suit himself.

.

Key Blames Solid Energy

At that point, the company approached his Government seeking a capital injection “in the order of about a billion dollars to turn this company into the [Brazilian state-owned energy company] Petrobras equivalent in New Zealand”, Mr Key said.

Source: IBID

As a 27 August 2010 Treasury report – released on 15 March 2013 – showed,  Key’s claim that Solid Energy approached the government for “a billion dollars to turn this company into the [Brazilian state-owned energy company] Petrobras ” would prove to be false.

As ex Chairman John Palmer was to tell the Select Committee on 14 March,

“Were we talking to the Government about the possibility of capital and receiving that from the Crown? The answer is no.”

.

.

14 March 2013

Former chairman John Palmer  and CEO, Don Elder appear before Commerce Select Committee

Now we start to hear the “other side” of the story – and much of it conflicts with what we’ve been hearing from English, Key, and Ryall.

.

National confirms big dividends paid out

For the first time it is publicly acknowledged – Solid Energy has been used as a cash cow by National, to extract big dividends from 2009 onward,

The government concedes the pressure it put on Solid Energy to increase its debt is partly to blame for the company’s financial failures.

The state-owned coal mining company owes $389 million in debt, and is negotiating a rescue package with Treasury and banks.

Government documents reveal that in May 2009, then-State Owned Enterprises Minister Simon Power wrote to Solid Energy’s then-chair, John Palmer, saying he was disappointed its profitability and dividends were forecast to drop over the next three years.

At the same time, the government wanted the company to increase its gearing (debt to equity) levels to 40 per cent and its dividends to 65 per cent of operating cash flow.

A ministerial briefing paper shows Solid Energy’s gearing level in March 2009 was 10 per cent, and was forecast to reach 27 per cent in June 2010, while its dividend was 50 per cent.

Parliamentary Library figures show Solid Energy’s gearing leapt from 9.4 per cent in June 2008 to 34.4 per cent in 2010, dropping back to 29.6 per cent in 2011 and jumping again to 41.7 per cent in 2012 as coal prices began to slump.

Finance Minister Bill English admits the government pressure was perhaps too strong.

Source:  Govt pressure on Solid Energy revealed

National had to come clean, as ex-CEO Don Elder appeared before the Commerce Select Committee to explain what went horribly wrong at Solid Energy. National’s ministers knew that the truth was coming out, and had to pre-empt any public disclosures of massive borrowings and payments of dividends,

Mr English says there was a pushback against the debt increase from Solid Energy, which he expected Mr Palmer and former chief executive Don Elder to explain when they fronted a select committee later on Thursday.

Labour leader David Shearer says the documents show ministers had a greater degree of involvement in Solid Energy’s failure than they were publicly letting on.

Source: IBID

Push back against debt“? By now we all understand that English is lying his arse off to Heaven and back. There was no push back.

The only “push” was to increase dividend payments and gearing up to 40%.

The only reason politicians tell such howling lies is because they do not expect people to remember all the facts; to connect the dots; or for an under-resourced media to tell the whole story as a continuous narrative. Politicians expect people to forget; not hear all the facts; or become confused with too much non-contextual facts and testimony from the main players.

That’s how they get away with it; we’re not paying close enough attention.

.

Don Elder appears before Commerce Select Committee – Confirmation of Govt wanting Solid Energy to increase debt – endorsed expansion

Firstly,  former Solid Energy chairman, John Palmer,  publicly confirmed that the National Government,

  • wanted Solid Energy to borrow more, and pay higher dividends to government coffers,
  • endorsed Solid Energy’s expansion plans

Labour’s finance spokesman David Parker asked whether the company was in any doubt that the Government wanted them to expand production, increase debt and dividends.

Palmer said it was “self evident” that increased gearing meant increased debt.

The Government was supportive of plans to expand, including into lignite.

Palmer’s comments contradicted Bill English’s comments on 22 February 2013 and John Key’s comments reported on 23 February, 2013, where both politicians lambasted Solid Energy for high debt and expansion plans.

According to Palmer, neither English nor Key were worried about Solid Energy’s expansion programme.

Next,

Palmer said that in late 2011 or early 2012, when it was clear what was going to happen, he spoke to minister Tony Ryall about a $200m revenue hole (twice the annual profits), which would have a dramatic effect on the balance sheet.

Which ties in with Bill English’s announcement on 21 August 2012, that Solid Energy had  “some fairly substantial issues… We wouldn’t be planning to float it any time soon”.

Now we know what he was referring to: Solid Energy was broke. He knew it then, but did not disclose the full nature of Solid Energy’s status until forced  by officials.

.

Ex-CEO rejects Key’s assertion of Solid Energy requesting a $1 billion cash injection

“Were we talking to the Government about the possibility of capital and receiving that from the Crown? The answer is no,” Mr Palmer said.

“A specific $1 billion capital injection, I’m reasonably sure we did not ask for it in exactly those terms.”

However he said the company did have discussions with the Crown about potential large investment in lignite processing but it was also talking to potential overseas partners, “because it made no sense to us to think that Crown as the sole shareholder should finance that”.

He also said the company discussed with the Crown a national resource strategy that would have required large investment.

“My recollection is there was no dollars attached to that proposal.”

Source: Solid Energy opposed Government’s debt plan

.

Curious case of politicians and executives receiving identical media-coaching

Meanwhile, National’s taxpayer funded media-staff had been busy coaching politicians and company executives;

.

Don Elder – Blame,  “Perfect Storm”

This was the perfect storm.”

Source: Palmer: Elder deserves applause

Tony Ryall –  “Perfect Storm” – blames downturn in coal prices – blames wrong investments

“State owned enterprises minister Tony Ryall blames the distressed financial state of Solid Energy on a “perfect storm” of events.

Mr Ryall says a wrong choice of investments, along with a worldwide collapse in coal prices, led to the coal mining company’s current state.”

“A wrong choice in investments, together with the most significant collapse in world coal prices in 2012 led to a perfect storm. The perfect storm has created the situation this company is currently in,” Mr Ryall says.

Source: Ryall blames ‘perfect storm’ for Solid Energy’s crisis

Bill English  – “Perfect Storm”

On TVNZ’s Q+A, on 17 March, English refers – not once, but twice! – to the “perfect storm”,

“That’s right. Look, in retrospect, they would have been better off with lower levels of debt, but as I think Don Elder and John Palmer said at the Select Committee, the board is there to make the decisions about what the actual levels of debt are. Bear in mind, in 2011 their debt had peaked and was declining, and then they got hit by the perfect storm in 2012.”

And a moment later, again,

“…And in 2011 their debt levels were actually declining from that, and then they got hit by the perfect storm…”

Source: TVNZ Q+A

Lotsa ‘stormy weather’ around? I thought we were experiencing a drought.

.

.

15 March 2013

Palmer says  Solid Energy did not want to take on high level of debt suggested by the Treasury

 Prime Minister John Key is facing claims he misled the public after former Solid Energy chairman John Palmer said the company resisted Government pressure to take on more debt – the very thing the Prime Minister said caused the company’s problems.

[...]

Appearing the day after Labour revealed former State-Owned Enterprises Minister Simon Power told the company to take on more debt and pay higher dividends, Mr Palmer said the company opposed that request.

The debt levels or gearing suggested by Mr Power and Treasury officials were higher than “we thought was an appropriate level of gearing given the nature of the industry we were involved in”, Mr Palmer said.

Source: Key under fire over Solid Energy claims

.

Key claims Solid Energy wanted $27 billion

Prime Minister John Key this morning released documents detailing Solid Energy’s ambitious expansion plans which would have required capital investment of $2-3 billion a year until 2021 or a total of up to $27 billion.

Key released the papers in response to Labour’s claims he misled the public about Solid Energy approaching his Government about a $1 billion investment to become the “Petrobras” of New Zealand, a request he says his Government turned down.

[...]

Key this morning said the documents showed the proposal “absolutely required, as Treasury pointed out, somewhere between two and three billion dollars of Government money”.

Source: Key says Solid Energy papers show $27b plan

Remember the Treasury report, dated 27 August 2010, referred above? Key is saying that the Solid Energy proposals would have required “between two and three billion dollars of Government money”.

Yet the 27 August 2010 Treasury report said nothing of the sort. Solid Energy could have obtained that money from the same commercial sources  it was already borrowing from.

And don’t forget, Solid Energy had already been borrowing significant amounts – pushing it’s ‘gearing‘ (debt to equity ratio) up:

Solid Energy’s gearing ratio [borrowings] was 13.8 per cent in 2009, but that rose to 34.4 per cent in 2010 and 41.7 per cent last year.

Source: Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told

To this day, Key continues to mis-represent the truth.

.

Key – Solid Energy wanted foreign investment and shareholders

“Key this morning said the documents showed the proposal “absolutely required, as Treasury pointed out, somewhere between two and three billion dollars of Government money”.

He said Palmer proposed selling a stake in Solid Energy to an offshore cornerstone investor “and that would involve taking more than 10 per cent of the company and not putting mums and dads first.”.

“I made it quite clear to him that we had campaigned on a mixed ownership model which didn’t involve someone having more than 10 per cent in the company”.

Solid Energy’s proposal “didn’t involve a situation where kiwi mums and dads would be first and so the only way to get that money was through the Government.”

Source: Key says Solid Energy papers show $27b plan

Now this is yet another contradiction from Key. First he tells us that Solid Energy executives wanted $1 billion (or was it $27 billion?) from Government.

But in the next breath – on the same day – he say Solid Energy wanted foreign investors/shareholders to buy 10% stakes in the SOE.

So which was it Dear Leader?! Government funding? Foreign investors/shareholders? Pixies at the bottom of the garden?

One can only conclude that former CEO, John Palmer, was correct, when he rejected any assertions that Solid Energy was looking to borrow money from government,

“I cannot recall that we have ever asked him explicitly for $1 billion dollars.”

Source: Key Must Front Up With $1 Billion Evidence

It was also interesting to note that Key derided Solid Energy’s plans for 10% foreign investors/shareholders blocks by stating that it contravened National’s policy of putting “kiwi mums and dads would be first“.

Which contradicts a statement that John Key made in a speech in 2005, on 4 March, where a private partner was something that National would welcome,

“In respect of Solid Energy, if an opportunity arose to introduce a private sector partner, we would consider that seriously.”

Source: John Key Speech: State Sector Under National

And how does Key reconcile that with other Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) such as Wiri Prison,

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley says a contract has been signed allowing the SecureFuture consortium to design, finance, build, operate and maintain the new 960-bed public-private partnership (PPP) prison at Wiri, South Auckland.

The new prison will deliver value for taxpayers and support the Government in reaching the target of a 25 per cent reduction in reoffending by 2017.

The 25 year contract is worth approximately $840 million, which is 17 per cent less than if the prison was procured through conventional means, representing a $170 million saving for taxpayers.

Fletcher Construction will build the new facility which will be operated by Serco and maintained by Spotless Facility Services. Construction will begin soon, with the prison set to open in 2015.

“The PPP will allow Corrections to draw on the experience and expertise of SecureFuture’s international partners,” says Mrs Tolley.

Source: Beehive – Contract signed for new PPP prison at Wiri

How many “mums and dads” invested in Wiri Prison?

There are many more PPPs of this nature where “mums and dads” have nil investments, and instead are the sole preserve of corporate investors – many from offshore.

.

Palmer denies Solid Energy wanted to borrow $1 billion from government

“Were we talking to the Government about the possibility of capital and receiving that from the Crown? The answer is no,” Mr Palmer said.

“A specific $1 billion capital injection, I’m reasonably sure we did not ask for it in exactly those terms.”

Source: IBID

Palmer is correct. According to the 27 August 2010 Treasury Report (referred to above),  Solid Energy did not ask Government for that money. The money could have been borrowed from any source – just as Solid Energy had already been doing.

This was also confirmed by a spokesperson for Bill English,

“We told them all to improve their performance and that, if they wanted to expand, they had to pay for it off their own balance sheet, rather than asking the cash-strapped taxpayers for money.”

Source: Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told

So it has becoming apparent that our Dear Leader Key is attempting to re-write recent history to suit his own agenda by shifting the blame elsewhere…

.

Key attempts to spin Assumption into “Fact”

“I think it is pretty self explanatory that when you come to the Government with such a very large proposal, we’re the 100% owner, that’s what’s required.”

Source: Details of Solid Energy’s expansion bid released

So let’s get this straight…

(i)  Solid Energy management presented  an expansion plan to National Ministers

(ii) The plan includes figures for said-expansion.

(iii) National Ministers had been encouraging of Solid Energy’s expansion plans (see comments 8 September 2010 and 3 June 2011)

(iv) There was no mention made of where borrowings would be made from – though up till now, Solid Energy had borrowed from private sources, and not the Crown. (See comments 27 August 2010)

(v) And from all that, the Prime Minister suggested that “ it is pretty self explanatory that when you come to the Government with such a very large proposal ” that Solid Energy expected finance from the  Crown?

I have one question: how on Earth did Key manage to amass a personal wealth of $50-$55 million when he  makes up  such fancifuul  “leaps of logic”?!?!

.

And the cover-up starts?

The head of the committee that grilled Solid Energy’s former bosses says he is unconvinced a full inquiry is needed.

Opposition MPs are pressuring for a full inquiry into the collapse of the state-owned coalminer, which is now reliant on government support to manage its $389 million debt pile.

Commerce select committee chairman Jonathan Young allowed yesterday’s appearance by former Solid Energy chairman John Palmer and former chief executive Don Elder to run for an hour longer than was originally expected.

Young, the National MP for New Plymouth, said this morning that he believed the committee now had “a very clear picture” of what had happened to Solid Energy, which was hit by falling coal prices, a strong New Zealand dollar and poor investment decisions.

In recent days it has emerged that the Government leaned on the company to take on more debt, after it warned it may pay less dividends.

Young said that “in hindsight we can look back and see if they didn’t have debt they would be in a better situation”.

Despite this, Young said he was yet to be convinced that a full select committee inquiry was needed into the collapse, saying there were “multiple levels of inquiry” already under way, with the company talking to its financiers, and the Government “looking at all of the issues”.

He told TV3′s Firstline: “I am personally yet to be convinced that we are going to uncover anything new or different that wouldn’t be uncovered” anyway.

Source: Solid Energy probe call rejected

“…the National MP for New Plymouth, said this morning that he believed the committee now had “a very clear picture” of what had happened to Solid Energy…”

That statement boggles the mind; drops the jaw to the ground; and is so, so, wrong on many levels. But wholly expected from a National member of Parliament; chairing a Select Committee; stacked with five National MPs out of nine committee members (see: Commerce Select Committee members); supposedly ‘investigating’ wrong-doing/ineptitude by National ministers.

Let’s see… what part of that is wrong? A government investigating itself and coming up with a verdict of nothing-to-see-here-folks-move-along-please? How is Young’s assertion that the Government was “looking at all of the issues” supposed to reassure us?! By what measure of common notions of justice is a  Government  “looking at all of the issues” supposed to be a non-partisan, transparent, and objective investigation into this issue?

It would be like directors of failed companies (many of whom are either in jail or waiting to be tried in Court or sentenced) investigating their own actions and coming up with the same comments as Young made,

“In hindsight we can look back and see if they didn’t have debt they would be in a better situation…”

Directors are “looking at all of the issues”.

“We are  personally yet to be convinced that we are going to uncover anything new or different that wouldn’t be uncovered”

Yeah, right, Mr Young. You can stop putting lipstick on that pig.

Listening to  the main players – especially John Key, Bill English, and Tony Ryall – there are too many conflicting statements to believe that an Inquiry is not needed. National ministers are simply unable to get their stories straight and have contradicted each other (and themselves) on numerous occassions.

Young asserts that the committee now had “a very clear picture” of what had happened.

Bollocks.

The only thing even remotely “clear” about all this is that remains remain to be asked – and answered.

As Tracey Watkins wrote on 16 March 2013,

“But something clearly went seriously wrong if those talks were not enough to stop the collapse of an SOE on an unprecedented scale.

Beneath the flurry of claims and counter claims that is the question which has still not been properly answered.”

See: Solid questions still remain unanswered

Indeed.

.

.

17 March 2013

Bill English – TVNZ Q+A

The following is a transcript from  Corin Dann interviewing Finance Minister (and half shareholder in Solid Energy) on 17 March 2013,

CORIN

All right, if we could move on to Solid Energy. Can you give us an update on where things are at with the banks? When will we know whether the government is going to have to bail out Solid Energy?

BILL

Well, that will be some months yet. There’s discussions going on with the banks now about stabilising Solid Energy. Some of the information around its cash flows is a bit more positive than we might have expected. But we will get a period of two to three months through to the end of June where we can look at all the options for recovering value for the taxpayer in the first place and, secondly, to decide whether there is an on-going viable business in the middle of this-

CORIN

Are you saying it’s making a bit more money than you thought now and that it might be able to get itself out of trouble?

BILL

Well, I wouldn’t go that far. All I’m saying is the cash flow numbers are just a bit more positive than we expected. I mean, if you look back, Solid Energy made some very substantial investments in some of its mines. Some of those worked out, such as in Stockton; some of them didn’t, such as in Spring Creek. But where they have invested, they’ve got capacity for production and for value, and if coal prices are at some kind of reasonable level, then there is a business there.

“All I’m saying is the cash flow numbers are just a bit more positive than we expected. ” – In which case, Mr English, keep your sticky hands of that cash.

I sincerely hope that if National Ministers attempt to gouge SOEs again, that Board Directors resign on masse and publicly disclose political attempts at such interference.

The public is entitled to be reassured that politicians will not use SOEs as “cash cows” simply to balance their books.  Especially after two unaffordable tax cuts – a glorified ‘lolly scramble’ – left a gaping hole in government accounts.

CORIN

Do you want the banks to take some of the heat on this?

BILL

Yes, I think that’s really important. They’ve lent money, and as lenders, they take risks. And if they lend to a company that’s affected by a very sharp downturn in coal prices and then loss of a quarter of their export sales, they’ve got the same risks as banks who leant to resource companies all around the world that have got in trouble.

CORIN

You can see the irony in that, though, because you told them to borrow more.

BILL

Well, and you were talking about it as a revelation. We did a press conference back in 2009 about the need for our SOEs to take on-

And it took Labour to advise the public, Mr English. Bill English, Key, and Ryall were more than happy to keep that 2009 letter from Simon Power under wraps.

That was part of National’s ‘spin’ that the massive borrowings and  debt were a ‘creature’ of Don Elder’s and John Palmer’s making. But as Corin Dann pointed out;

CORIN

But you know that timing is everything with these things, and that was a revelation coming at this time, given your government had tried to distance itself from this issue. You even blamed Labour for it, for what they said in 2007.

BILL

No, I don’t agree with that. In 2009, the government was facing a decade of deficits because of the Labour Party and the recession. And we quite reasonably said that our taxpayer-owned companies should contribute more cash to the coffers. That’s the point of owning them. And Solid Energy had paid barely- had paid almost no dividends for the previous five or six years, and they had very low levels of debt compared to their asset value. So, look, in retrospect-

Here we go again; more blame-gaming,

In 2009, the government was facing a decade of deficits because of the Labour Party and the recession.

English blames the recession?

In which case why did National Ministers extract 163.9 million in dividends from Solid Energy, during the worst recession since the 1920s/30s?

Is this what National calls “prudent fiscal management”?

Notice also that  English lied by  blaming “ a decade of deficits because of the Labour Party” – even though Cullen was posting surpluses from 2002-08 Labour-led period?! And paid down sovereign debt from 33.4% of  GDP to 17.4% GDP? (See previous blofpost:  Bill English – do you remember Colin Morrison?)

This is symptomatic of a National-led government that is desperate to avoid all responsibility.

CORIN

But there was a good reason for that, wasn’t there? Because they were a coal company.

BILL

That’s right. Look, in retrospect, they would have been better off with lower levels of debt, but as I think Don Elder and John Palmer said at the Select Committee, the board is there to make the decisions about what the actual levels of debt are. Bear in mind, in 2011 their debt had peaked and was declining, and then they got hit by the perfect storm in 2012.

Look, in retrospect, they would have been better off with lower levels of debt“…   “In retrospect“?!?! Little wonder that Solid Energy’s board and management resisted National’s demands for higher and higher dividends (as English concedes in his next statement).

That statement – ”Look, in retrospect, they would have been better off with lower levels of debt“  – totally destroys the argument put forward by Key, English, and Ryall that Solid Energy’s debt and subsequent crisis was of it’s own making.

Quite simply, National was desperate for cash to pay for the 2009 and 2010 taxcuts, and were prepared to bleed SOEs dry to get it’s hand on their money. Even if those SOEs had to borrow to do it.

This is ministerial incompetance at best – or outright economic sabotage at worst. (No wonder ACT and Libertarians maintain that politicians can’t run businesses. Correction: National politicians can’t run businesses.)

CORIN

But you were telling all SOEs to raise their debt to a 40% gearing, and Solid Energy told you they were not comfortable with that, and there was a good reason: because they were a volatile coal company. Surely that was too much pressure you were applying to them.

BILL

Well, clearly not, because their debt peaked at under 35%, which was the level the board set, which was lower than what the government was expecting. And in 2011 their debt levels were actually declining from that, and then they got hit by the perfect storm. So, yes, would they have been better off with no debt? Yes, just like lots of businesses and households would be better off with no debt. Then they got hit by these circumstances which may well have put the company into trouble even if it had no debt.

Yes Mr English, Solid Energy did get hit by “a perfect storm”. A storm largely made up of rapacious politicians.

It appears that by not gearing up to the full 40% demanded by National, that Don Elder and John Palmer may have done their best to prevent the collapse of Solid Energy.

CORIN

The issue also, of course, has been around their investments. Now, your government must take some responsibility, surely, for the oversight of what they were investing in. You were the one down in Southland turning the first sod with the lignite plant. You knew what they were up to.

BILL

Well, and it’s yet to be seen just whether that particular investment has on-going potential or not. Clearly, some of them don’t. Some of them may do. That’s what’ll happen over the next two to three months. But what you’ve got to keep in mind here is that under the SOE model, politicians are not there to run the companies. We do not make the investment decisions. The boards make the investment decisions, and the weakness in the model is that there’s no market scrutiny of those board decisions, and that is why the partial sell-down of the electricity companies will help with the monitoring and the performance of those companies.

But what you’ve got to keep in mind here is that under the SOE model, politicians are not there to run the companies. We do not make the investment decisions. ” – Really, Mr English? And yet Simon Power felt he had the ministerial authority to write to Solid Energy demanding higher dividends.

In reality, under the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986, shareholding Ministers can and do issue directives to SOE Boards. So English is being disingenuous when he tries to indicate that Ministers are powerless. They are not powerless,

13.  Powers of shareholding Ministers in respect of new State enterprises
  • (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act or the rules of any company,—

    • (a) the shareholding Ministers may from time to time, by written notice to the board, direct the board of a company named in Schedule 2 to include in, or omit from, a statement of corporate intent for that company any provision or provisions of a kind referred to in paragraphs (a) to (h) of section 14(2); and

    • (b) the shareholding Ministers may, by written notice to the board, determine the amount of dividend payable by any company named in Schedule 2 in respect of any financial year or years,—

    and any board to whom such a notice is given shall comply with the notice.

    (2) Before giving any notice under this section, the shareholding Ministers shall—

    • (a) have regard to Part 1; and

    • (b) consult the board concerned as to the matters to be referred to in the notice.

    (3) Within 12 sitting days after a notice is given to a board pursuant to this section, the responsible Minister for the company concerned shall lay a copy of the notice before the House of Representatives.

Source: State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986 – Section 13

They have the power.

It’s the responsibility for their stuff-ups that seems to elude them.

CORIN

And are you confident there will be much better decision-making, that these MOM companies, in general, are going to have better board making decisions?

BILL

I think mixed-ownership companies will, but there’s a real challenge for government with the lessons from Solid Energy. When you look ahead, the companies that the government will own all have their challenges – NZ Post with the shrinking postal market, TVNZ and the digital media environment, a coal company if there is still a coal company. And we are going to have to change the way we work with these companies to ensure that we don’t lose taxpayers’ money. Because the taxpayers’ money in these companies doesn’t come out of the sky; it comes from the PAYE and the GST paid by NZ households. And we have a strong responsibility for the stewardship of that money.

Source: TVNZ Q+A

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22 March 2013

The NZ Herald reported that “seven years’ worth of documents about Solid Energy have been released by Treasury… It has been released after a number of Official Information Act request centred around how much the Government knew about the financial troubles the state owned coal miner was in“.

Source:  Big Solid Energy document dump from Treasury

[Note: This blogger has viewed only a fraction of documents. There's no telling what other revelations and incriminating evidence is contained therein. Perhaps something to be re-visited on a quiet, wintry evening?]

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25 March 2013

Papers confirm Govt pressure on Solid Energy

A week after English’s attempt to ‘spin’ the collapse of Solid Energy and blame everyone under the sun, Radio NZ reported,

Official papers confirm the Government put pressure on Solid Energy to increase its debt and then appeared later to criticise it for borrowing too heavily as it got into difficulty.

The state-owned coal company is in debt to the tune of $390 million.

The papers released on Friday also show that despite strongly disagreeing with the company’s business plan, the Government left it late to act.

In 2009 the then State-Owned Enterprises Minister, Simon Power, wrote to Solid Energy chair John Palmer recommending the company raise its gearing ratio – a measure of debt – to 40%.

By June 2012, when it was clear the company was in trouble, the ratio had risen to 37% and, according to the Treasury, Solid Energy had taken on significant debt.

It was only at that point, after arguing with the company for three to four years about its business plan, that the Government decided to make changes.

Source: Papers confirm Govt pressure on Solid Energy

By  this time, public attention and media focus had waned. There were other issues and problems to deal with, and National ministers could breath a sigh of relief. They were “off the hook”.

Let us recall that Treasury’s scoping report, released on 4 November 2011, confirmed everyone’s suspicions that National had cash-stripped Solid Energy;

 ”…dividend payments to the government have been funded by increasing debt“.

Source: Treasury Report T2011/2373: Solid Energy New Zealand Scoping Study Report

The ‘up-shot’ of all this?

  • A billion dollar state own enterprise had been milked as a “cash cow” and left to collapse.
  • English, Ryall, Key, et al – off the hook.
  • There would be no ministerial accountability; no resignations; no one held to account.

And for good measure,

  • Blame Labour for everything.

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8 May 2013

Bill English preps public for Solid Energy’s write-off?

In a Radio NZ story (see: English questions viability of Solid Energy), Bill English contradicted his earlier assertion that Solid Energy would not be allowed into receivership,

“We’re not going to keep propping up businesses where we don’t think there’s a long term future. Where we think there there is, we put strong support in. So Kiwirail would be a good example.Where the government’s  already invested around a billion in them in the last 3 or 4 years and they will… all of their,um, surpluses will be reinvested in the business, probably for the next decade. So the taxpayer won’t take anything out of them. But there may be… it’s possible that there’s other businesses, as has been revealed say in the  Solid Energy case where their particular mix may not be viable so we have to look at  whether they can be restructured or whether in the long run there’s a viable proposition there. But at the moment Solid Energy is the only business where that’s in question.”

Listen RNZ interview: Bill English on Morning Report

By questioning the viability of Solid Energy, English is preparing the public for the day when National announces the demise of the company.

Having gutted it of cash and forced it to borrow millions for unsustainable dividends, National is now ready to administer the coup de grâce to finish it off. (If the Nats could eliminate all witnesses to their bare-faced thieving, I bet you they’d be considering it…)

Meanwhile, a week later…

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14 May 2013

$1 billion for KiwiRail

Radio NZ revealed that KiwiRail was receiving government funding to keep operating,

Overall the Government has committed about $1 billion to the effort, and Finance Minister Bill English has said the Government is unlikely to take a dividend for the next decade so KiwiRail can reinvest any profits in the rail service.

Source:  Solid Energy problems pose risk for KiwiRail

See also: Beehive.govt.nz: Next steps in KiwiRail’s Turnaround Plan

How is it that Solid Energy,  a once viable company – earning millions in revenue from overseas exports of coal (admittedly not a very environmentally-friendly product) – may be allowed to go into receivership?

Meanwhile, National is quite happy to keep investing in KiwiRail, which has never generated a profit in modern times. (Though admittedly, KiwiRail is  an environmentally-friendly transport enterprise with a positive future, as we pass the oil peak.)

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A message to businesspeople:

National Ministers are attempting to sheet blame for Solid Energy’s financial crisis to it’s former Chairperson, John Palmer, and CEO, Don Elder.

Key, English, and Ryall  have  resorted to mis-presentation of facts; omission of facts;  exageration; and in some instances, outright lies.

This should serve as a clear warning to businesspeople. Think carefully before accepting managerial or Board positions during a National-led government.

Because if things go wrong – even if caused by political interference – then they will have no hesitation to smear your reputation.  They will hang you out to dry, whether you are at fault or not.

A message to Voters:

National has a reputation as “prudent fiscal managers”.

For the life of me, I cannot understand how they have earned that reputation.

To allow a billion dollar SOE to crash and burn; run into the ground; and now   facing bankruptcy suggests to me that Key, English, Ryall, Brownlee, Joyce, Collins could not run a corner Dairy without getting into financial trouble.

I don’t think these clowns could run a sausage sizzle without losing money by the end of the day.

Perhaps, as a test,  those voters who are disbelieving should keep voting National? Let’s see what other SOE will collapse on their watch, eh?

What the hell. After all, it’s only our property. And tax dollars.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 May 2013.

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References

Solid Energy: Annual Reports Index

Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit – SOE Disclosures

Treasury: SOE/Solid Energy Disclosures

Previous related blogposts

That was Then, This is Now #18 (24 Feb 2013)

National caught out over Solid Energy – changes story on coal prices, debt, and other matters (13 March 2013

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National caught out over Solid Energy – changes story on coal prices, debt, and other matters

13 March 2013 18 comments

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SOEs

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When Solid Energy’s financial crisis became public on 21 February 2013, Bill English, Tony Ryall, and John Key were quick to apportion blame. Their high-paid (by the taxpayer) media strategists had done their dirty work.

They blamed;

  1. Solid Energy mis-reading trends in coal prices
  2. The previous Labour government
  3. The Board and management of Solid Energy
  4. The Global Financial Crisis
  5. Mrs Teagle, the tea-lady
  6. Sunspots

Everyone was to blame. National’s hands were clean. The world is a bad place.

So, let’s go through the points above.

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1. Solid Energy mis-reading trends in coal prices

One of National’s constant lines –  in an attempt to smear  Solid Energy’s Board as incompetant – was the SOE’s  inability to “read trends in world prices for coal”.

As Dear Leader, John Key said on 25 February,

Asked at his post-cabinet press conference why Solid Energy was in such dire straits, he said its directors grossly over-estimated what they thought coal would be worth.

“They got it completely and utterly wrong, and up to the middle of 2012 they still rejected the international view of where coal was likely to go,” he said.

Source: Solid Energy got coal price wrong: Key

On 21 February, Little Leader, Bill English said,

“World coal prices have dropped significantly which has contributed to the deteriorating financial position that Solid Energy is in now.

“These discussions are required because the position of the state-owned enterprise has continued to deteriorate despite the restructuring that has already taken place,” Mr English says.

Source: Bill English & Tony Ryall – Statement on Solid Energy

And as Baby Leader, Tony Ryall also said on 21 February,

State-owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall said a number of factors had weighed against the company, in particular world coal prices dropping by 40 per cent.

“It is facing very serious financial challenges,” Ryall said.

Source: Debt-laden Solid Energy talking to banks

So the narrative  being spread by senior National ministers was that Solid Energy was incompetant and couldn’t understand world coal price trends.

Which, for a company that lives, breathes, and farts coal seemed… unlikely.

#1 – Rebutted

But then, on 13 March, Bill English was reported on Radio New Zealand with this statement,

But Finance Minister Bill English says it wasn’t clear that coal prices were declining, and the Government can’t be held responsible for how much debt Solid Energy eventually took on.

Source: Labour says Govt forced Solid Energy to borrow more

Okay… so despite Key, English, and Ryall insisting that Solid Energy had mis-read trends in global coal prices, he is now saying that “it wasn’t clear that coal prices were declining”?!

Well, I’m glad that’s been cleared up.

After all, it’s not like National was initially claiming that world coal prices [were] dropping by 40 per cent  to make Solid Energy’s board look bad – and then suggested  it wasn’t clear that coal prices were declining for National to save their own arses.

That would be… contradictory.

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2. The previous Labour government

National has blamed the previous Labour government for everything, from the decline of the British  Empire, to the sinking of the Titanic. (And trying to pin both World Wars on Labour – but that’s a work-in-progress.)

On 26 February, Key said,

“They can’t wash their hands of the fact that from 2003 on, they were intimately involved with the plans that that company had,” Mr Key said.

On 13 March, English said,

At the time, it was not clear that coal prices were declining. In fact, the best advice from the company—with which the Government ended up disagreeing—was that coal prices would continue to rise. But, as I said, that decision was made in the context of the mess that the previous Labour Government left with the State-owned enterprises.

Source: Parliament Questions and Answers – March 13

Ah, the inhumanity of it all… The dastardly tentacles of a previous government, from four years ago, reaches into the present day to thwart National’s good works. It’s amazing that with such power, that Labouir ever managed to lose two elections in succession, from 2008…

One has to wonder though… is National really so powerless? If so, why are they in government?

#2 – Rebutted

In a rather strange moment of open honesty, Tony Ryall had this to say about Labour’s administration of SOEs, on 27 February,

Hon TONY RYALL: No, I am not going to launch some sort of independent investigation into the governance of Solid Energy. The governance of Solid Energy, much of which was appointed under the previous Labour Government, was running that company and it was doing very well up until 2011. We had the scoping study. It identified a number of issues. And I agree with Trevor Mallard: the collapse of world coal prices is a most significant factor in this matter.

Source: Parliament Questions for oral answer: 5. Solid Energy—Former Chief Executive

And a few days later, on  2 March of this year, Key let slip,

”On the face of it, at least what it had was rising profits. It had a situation where its valuation was going up, it had bankers lending it money, and it had an investment stream that had been set in place by the previous Labour Government,” Mr Key told BusinessDay.

Source: Solid Energy bail-out cost likely to rise

Really?

A look at the profits and dividends paid during Labour’s administration bear out their prudent management of SOEs. And confirmed by Tony Ryall and John Key.

In Labour’s  entire eight years, not one single  SOE suffered a financial collapse of the magnitude of Solid Energy – and Cullen was still posting surpluses, year after year. And paying down government debt. And finding time to play with his grandkids.

The Nats are in office for four years – and they lose a SOE on their watch?

How does that work?

Especially when, as Adam Bennett reported in the Herald on 13 March,

Mr Shearer later said Solid Energy had responded to the Government’s call, “returning $130 million over four years, including $30 million in late 2011 by which time coal prices had further declined and the company was in financial distress“.

He also pointed to the company’s increase in borrowing over that period, rising from $13 million in 2009 to $191 million the following year and $313 million by 2012.

See: Govt accused of milking Solid Energy for dividends

By contrast, the previous Labour government, took only  $64.4 million as a dividend to the  to the Crown – over an eight year period. (See:  Government defends Solid Energy payouts)

Which still baffles me as to why New Zealanders still have this misconception that National are “prudent fiscal managers” of the economy.

Personally, I wouldn’t let the buggers run a sausage sizzle outside Pak’n’Save.

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3. The Board and management of Solid Energy

National’s culture of blaming others for their own mistakes is slowly but surely building in the public consciousness. (See previous blogposts: Taking responsibility, National-styleDear Leader Key blames everyone else for Solid Energy’s financial crisis) It has become de rigueur for National to immediately seek out, and blame others, for one of their cock-ups.

And when one minister – Kate Wilkinson – resigned immediatly upon the release of the report from the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy, it was seen for what it was; tokenism. And a strategic attempt to close down (or minimise) media scrutiny of  National’s de-regulation in the 1990s, which led inevitably to  a culture of poor safety in our mining industry.

Practically every public comment by National has directly, indirectly, or in a covert fashion, attempted to sheet blame for Solid Energy’s financial crash on it’s Board and CEO, Don Elder.

Key even suggested – po-faced – that the SOE was practically out of control. On 25 February, Dear Leader stated,

While the New Zealand government was unwilling to back Solid Energy in that role, it appears to have been powerless to prevent the company from taking what Key described as “baby steps” towards such a future.

Source: Govt blocked grandiose Solid Energy plans in 2009

“The company did have the right to draw down debt and make investments without shareholder authority” up to a certain level, Mr Key says.

Source: Govt blocked grandiose Solid Energy plans in 2009

So, can someone remind me again – what, precisely, is the role of the Minister for State Owned Enterprises?

#3 – Rebutted

The above was nothing less than an attempt at total abdication of responsibility by Key and his Ministers. As an  incredibly insightful Dominion Post editorial of 2 March  stated,

There are always excuses when a company starts to fail. John Key’s explanation for the trouble at Solid Energy, however – he blamed the Labour government – was pitiful.

It was Trevor Mallard’s fault, apparently, for encouraging SOEs to spread their wings and fly. That was in 2007 or 2008.

This won’t do, and not just because Mr Key’s Government has been in power for more than four years. His argument also contradicts itself. A Labour government was seemingly omnipotent and could have its way with the state-owned coal company. But National had no such power.

The Government certainly said no when Solid Energy asked for a billion dollars to turn itself into a super-company along the lines of Petrobras, the Brazilian giant. Mr Key says it had grave doubts about the company’s expansion plans. His political opponents point out that he and Bill English had publicly backed Solid Energy’s big plans for lignite conversion and briquetting.

So what was really going on? Mr Key says the company didn’t require the Government’s approval for the investments. Nor did the Government have a good reason to sack the board, as it could have done under the SOE legislation. So: nothing to see here, apparently.

If all these excuses were valid, it would be hard to know how any government could be held to account for what its state-owned companies were doing. Mr Key’s Government cannot get off so lightly. Nor can his officials. It is unclear just what kind of “monitoring” Treasury was doing, but it obviously wasn’t effective.

Source: Editorial: Solid Energy excuses fuel anger

And then, on 13 March – the bombshell,

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Labour says Govt forced Solid Energy to borrow more

Source

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So now we’re getting at the answers.

Now we’re starting to build up a clearer picture as to not how Solid Energy got into debt – but why.

As with most things, the anwer is simple.

National needed cash to balance it’s books by 2014/15. Not content to flog off state assets to raise x-billion dollars, it used Solid Energy as as cash cow, to extract maximum dividends.

Just as Brierleys extracted maximum dividends from Air New Zealand in 2001, stripping the airline of it’s cash reserves in the process and bankrupting it.  (see previous blogpost: A Clear Warning to Investors in SOEs)

More importantly, it used Solid Energy as a front to borrow.

If a government borrows cash, it shows up on their balance books as a liability.

If a SOE borrows cash; then pays it to a government as a “dividend”, it shows up on the books as a profit.

That was why National was forcing Solid Energy to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars and then demanding it to be paid into government coffers as a “dividend”.

My immediate thoughts on this are,

  1. All three ministers – Key, English, and Ryall – should appear before the Commerce Select Committee to answer questions. To this blogger, there appears to be serious implications of  questionable behaviour by National Ministers and their dealings with Solid Energy.
  2. There is more to come out on this isssue, such as why Solid Energy’s Board allowed this cash-stripping by National Ministers to be carried out.
  3. And this is the most important: I think every New Zealander who is considering investing in Mighty River Power – and other SOE shares – should look very carefully at their books.  The question has to be asked; have National Ministers done the same thing to other SOES? Are they also heavily “geared” (borrowed against assets) and highly vulnerable to market downturns?
  4. The auditor-general, or some other forensic accounting firm, should immediatly be called in to to assess the books of all SOES.

At this point in time, I wouldn’t touch a single share of any SOE, with bio-hazard gloves.

They may be financially toxic.

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References

Fairfax media: Debt-laden Solid Energy talking to banks (21 Feb 2013)

Building a Brighter Future: Bill English & Tony Ryall – Statement on Solid Energy (21 Feb 2013)

Scoop: Govt blocked grandiose Solid Energy plans in 2009 (25 February 2013)

MSN News: Solid Energy got coal price wrong: Key (25 February 2013)

TV3: Govt, Labour squabble over Solid Energy (26 Feb 2013)

Otago Daily Times: Solid Energy bail-out cost likely to rise (2 March 2013)

Dominion Post: Editorial: Solid Energy excuses fuel anger (2 March 2013)

Southland Times: Government defends Solid Energy payouts (12 March 2013)

Radio NZ: Labour says Govt forced Solid Energy to borrow more (13 March 2013)

NZ Herald: Govt accused of milking Solid Energy for dividends (13 March 2013)

Parliament: Questions for oral answer: Ministers—Confidence (13 March 2013)

Parliament: Parliament Questions and Answers  (13 March 2013)

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392,000 New Zealanders send a clear message to John Key – Part Rua

12 March 2013 3 comments

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Continued from: 392,000 New Zealanders send a clear message to John Key – Part Tahi

NZ, Wellington, 12 March 2013 – Ms Maniapoto Jackson introduced the first speaker, Greypower’s President, Roy Reid,

“So please welcome up the man who initiated this historical moment for us – the biggest citizens initiated referendum in [New Zealand's] history!”

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

Roy Reid

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“As President of Greypower, I wish to inform you  that Greypower has been opposed to the  sale of state owned assets  for a number of years. And this was reconfirmed at our annual general meeting two years ago. We advised all the political parties in this  House that we were opposed to them selling any of our assets.

Our generation worked hard. We paid the taxes, to build our existing assets. They’re not for sale. They belong to  all New Zealanders.

I sincerely thank all those who worked from one end of New Zealand to the other, to collect those 394,000 signatures just behind us.  It’s the biggest petition  ever presented to this House.
I pay tribute to our co-supporters, the New Zealand students association. For being involved with us, because it shows the country that we are united from the elderly to the younger generations…

…I’m sure that we’ve got enough valid signatures in those boxes to force the referendum. And [despite] no respect for what this government today says, the people of New Zealand will have their say.”

It as perhaps fitting that Mr Reid was given first opportunity to address the crowd.  It was indeed his generation, and others before him, who sacrificed so much to build what we have in New Zealand today. And which a few greedy, short-sighted number of our fellow New Zealanders seem unable to comprehend that these assets do, indeed, belong to us all.

Not just to those with the cash to buy shares.

Our elected representatives certainly did not hesitate to show their agreement with Mr Reid’s comments,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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Ms Maniapoto Jackson then invited the next speaker; ex-Vice President of the Auckland Students Association and  Ngai Tahu; Arena Williams,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

Arena Williams

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Ms Williams greeted the crowd in Te Reo and her following message was short, blunt, and to the point,

“There’s one message that the government needs to take home from such an over-whelming support of this petition, and that’s Stop the asset sales and give New Zealanders a chance to have a say on this really important issue!”

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The next invited guest-speaker was  economist, Peter Conway, from the Council of Trade Unions,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

Peter Conway

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Mr Conway said,

“The Union movement is really proud to be here today  at this amazing event and I just want to say, fantastic effort. Well done everybody! It’s awesome.

Now it might have been a little bit easier if for me to have the backing of a one million dollar advertising campaign, and maybe if we we’d been able to do it all on line. But I actually think that the fact that we went out there into communities where people work, live, and play and debated the issues; talked to people about it and got such a fantastic response, is really a testament to our democracy…

… So this is part of our democracy. And what we’re saying to the government; respect democracy… Let’s get this referendum up,  and the Council of Trade Unions, on behalf of the union movement, is calling on the government to halt all asset sales and listen to the people.

Kia kaha, and thanks very much.”

Ms Maniapoto Jackson then welcomed the Leader of the Labour Party and MP for Mt Albert, David Shearer,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

David Shearer

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 After expressing his welcome,  Mr Shearer gave a brief thanks to the people, followed by a similarly brief message,

Look, I just wanted to start by saying ‘thank you’, ‘thank you’ for all of those people who went out day after day, weekend after weekend, who stood on cold corners in the middle of winter and got people to sign this petition. Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who care about this country so much that they put their signature to this petition.

This is about the transfer of an asset that we all own into the hands of a very few. That’s what it’s about, it’s about fairness. It [asset sales]  is not fair.

This referendum will make the government listen to New Zealanders.

The fight will go on. It’s not finishing today. It will go on and we in the Labour Party will continue to fight this until 2014.

I wanted to say, as the boxes were being put up there, I was thinking that “Another Brick in the Wall” tune came into my mind, and I was thinking “We Don’t Want your Asset Sales Programme John Key”…

… Once again thank you for your effort, thank you for being here today. Kia Kaha,  let’s take  it to the government.”

Before Ms Maniapoto Jackson introduced the next speaker, Green Party co-leader Russell Norman, she briefly pointed out  that the Parties behind her were unified, “with only the odd absence, which was duly noted“.

Mr Norman then addressed the people,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

Russell Norman

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Mr Norman then addressed the people,

“Today we stand here here on behalf  of the millions of New Zealanders who are opposed to the sale of their assets. Today we stand here on behalf of the hundreds of thousands von New Zealanders who have signed this petition, behind us. Today we stand here on behalf of future generations who are relying on us to stand up for our country.

And that is why we have done this massive piece of  work that you see behind us.

It has been incredibly hard work on behalf of thousands and thousands of people to go out and collect these signatures. It is despicable that the Prime Minister  then says that the people who signed this petition were children and tourists! Prime Minister you do not know New Zealanders!

If the Prime Minister of New Zealand thinks that the people who signed this petition, the 400,000 people who signed this petitition, are not real New Zealanders, then he is in the wrong country…

… Real New Zealanders are the ones who worked and laboured to build those assets up so that we could inherit them. Real New Zealanders are the ones who will look after them so that we can pass them on to those who come after us…

… We have a mandate to keep our assets. The Prime Minister has no mandate to sell them.”

Ms Maniapoto Jackson then introduced Mr Peters, saying  “if there’s anyone who can talk about justice and fairness, it’s Winston Peters“,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

Winston Peters

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“…Mr Key does does not have a mandate to make these sales. We all know the last election result and he relies upon the vote of Peter Dunne, who you know, with your money, at the last election had TV adverts saying that he would not do that.  So there is no mandate.

We come now to the referendum, which  is a chance for Mr Key to see whether he’s got the public backing and he doesn’t have even have the backing of one third of the National Party vote by every survey that you and I have seen.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s going to be difficult over the next few months on this issue, but I want to make something very, very,  clear. Unless we make it clear to everyone who’s buying, that after the next election, whenever they fly the white flag, we intend to take back those shares at no greater price than they bought it for, then we will not be making the message very clear for Mr Key who governs for the few and very few.

Now your problem is,  you don’t own a casino. Otherwise he’d be listening to you.

And you’re you’re not a Hobbit or some wide-boy from Hollywood, otherwise, he’d be listening to you.

No wonder he fell upon the defence of tourists, because that’s what Mr Key is; a CV Prime Minister, who will soon go, on issues like that…

… this is just the beginning. It is not the end.”

Next up, Ms Maniapoto Jackson introduced “the wonderful leader of the Mana Party, and MP for  Te Tai Tokerau, Hone Harawira“,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

Hone Harawira

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Mr Harawira injected a note of humour into the afternoon, and the crowd enjoyed his off-beat way of giving a speech,

“Look I’m going to do most of my korero in Maori, so the best way for you to support it is, every time I stop to take a breath,  clap like crazy!”

The crowd obliged with enthusiasm, clapping and cheering each time he paused  during his korero.

Ending his speech in  Te Reo, he  added,

“Now just for a short chant, a short chant, eh? Because Moana get’s all the the recording rights for this little gig, so mine is going to be a short little chant. So just follow after me. You ready?

“Aotearoa is not for sale!”

The crowd responded, “Aotearoa is not for sale“.

“C’mon, c’mon, now you can do better than that,” he ‘admonished the crowd with a smile.He repeated, “Aotearoa is not for sale!”

The responded boomed back, AOTEAROA IS NOT FOR SALE!”

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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“Tell John Key to Go to hell!”

“TELL JOHN KEY TO GO TO HELL!”

And with that, Hone  Harawira finished with a cheerful “Kia ora tatou!”.

As far as political speeches went, it was one of the shortest and more entertaining that this blogger has heard for a while. He certainly injects a bit of fun into a political event.

As an intriguing aside, this blogger managed to capture this picture of two Davids and a Damian. Their body language seemed to belie any suggestion of tension or ‘struggle between Messrs Cunliffe and Shearer.

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

(L-R) David Shearer, David Cunliffe, Damien O’Connor

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Hmmmm… One has to wonder…

On a closing note, Ms Maniapoto Jackson ‘encouraged’ (dragged!)  Hone Harawira back to the microphone to sing a duet – an old song from their protest days together,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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And final posed-pics from Ms Maniapoto Jackson and  Hone Harawira, after their singing-duet finale,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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It’s interesting to compare the persona of Hone Harawira in the media, especially in his early days in Parliament – with the man who presents to the people, at public gatherings.  There is a warmth and sincerity to the man that is almost wholly lacking in his MSM appearances – but a warmth and humour that is obvious when seeing him in person.

And from the Green Party caucus, this lovely snapshot. They deserve thepride they were feeling in being part of a movement to collect nearly 400,000 signatures,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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In conclusion…

John Key’s casual dismissal of the petition, and the nearly 400,000 New Zealanders who signed it,  was not a “good look”. It spoke volumes of Key’s persona; his arrogance; and his pettiness.

He could just as easily have accepted the petition as part of the democratic process and congratulated New Zealanders for   participating. It would have made him look statesmanlike; stand above petty politics; and increased his mana.

Being derisive; suggesting that the signatures were from “children and tourists”;  was offensive.

It was unnecessary and uncalled for.

It was childish.

It publicly revealed John Key’s innermost insecurities – as he knows that the people are not with him on this issue. It must be a debilitating, depressing feeling, knowing that three million New Zealanders are angrily opposed to what Key and his cronies are up to.

“Where is the love”, he may well ask?

“Where is the respect”, we ask him.

An open message to John Key…

The Prime Minister insists he has a “mandate” to part-privatise our state assets.

I disagree. More people voted for Parties opposing state asset sales than voted for Parties endorsing said sales.

John Key has a one seat “majority”, due in part to manipulations during the 2011 election, and MMP rules that prevented some Parties from gaining representation in the House.  For example, the Conservative Party won twice as many votes as ACT – but gained no seats. (see: Mandates & Majorities)

That’s not a mandate, Mr Prime Minister – that’s an accident of circumstances.

Mr Key – if you truly insist that you have a mandate, then put it to the test. Hold off on the sharefloat for Mighty River Power. Let the people have their say in a referendum.

I, for one, will accept the verdict of a referendum, whatever the outcome. If the majority – even the slimmest margin over 50% – support your asset sale programme, you’ll not hear one more word from me on this issue ever again.

Are you willing to  put your “mandate” to the test, Mr Prime Minister?

Are you willing to listen to, and abide by, the will of the People?

I am.

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Additional

Radio NZ: Petitioners confident of asset sale referendum

Dominion Post: Government to ignore asset sales referendum

NZ Herald: Asset sales petition arrives at Parliament

TV3: PHOTOS: Asset sales petition presented

TVNZ: Petition against SOE sales delivered to Parliament

Newstalk ZB: Opposition MPs greet anti-asset sales petition

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  • Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  • At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  • Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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392,000 New Zealanders send a clear message to John Key – Part Tahi

12 March 2013 3 comments

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NZ, Wellington, 12 March 2013 – Another beautiful sunny day with blue skies  (apologies to farmers) was a perfect setting this afternoon in Wellington, when a couple of hundred marchers arrived on Parliament’s grounds, bearing 68 boxes, containing 392,000 signatures.

The referendum requires 304,000 valid signatures to precipitate a nationwide referendum. The 392,000 signatures gives a 22% ‘buffer’ against invalid signatures; people not on the electoral roll; duplicate signatures; and malicious attempts to undermine the petition.

There was a small number of people on Parliament’s grounds  awaiting the march, amongst them tino rangatiratanga activists, Brenda and Fran,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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At about 1pm, marchers arrived, bearing the boxes that contained a priceless treasure – signatures of 392,000 New Zealanders. Media flocked around them. This was an historical event,

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12-march-2013-presentation-of-anti-asset-sales-petition-parliament-referendum

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They walked onto Parliament’s grounds to cheers and applause of those waiting,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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On the steps to Parliament, more media and elected representatives from Opposition Parties were waiting. (Curiously, none from National, ACT, or United Future were in attendance. Their ‘invites’ must’ve been lost in the post?)

Politicians clapped as the marchers approached. Men, women, young, old, Maori, Pakeha, these were New Zealanders who believed that the People’s Assets were not to be stripped and flogged off by a handful of politicians,

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12-march-2013-presentation-of-anti-asset-sales-petition-parliament-referendum

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Sixty eight marchers proudly carried a prized box each,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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The boxes were carefully passed over a security barricade, to be stacked on the Parliamentary forecourt,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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Meanwwhile, the crowd watched, as the stacking of boxes progressed,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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The leadership of the Green and Labour Parties,  with Brendan Horan (far left, standing beside Metiria Turei); former AUSA President, Arena Williams (standing beside David Shearer); Grey Power National President, Mr Roy Reid; Annette King; and (far right – no slur intended, Mr Conway) CTU Economist and Director of Policy, Peter Conway .

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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Mana Party leader, Hone Harawira, joined the Party leaders shortly afterward (NZ First lreader, Winston Peters was standing off-camera, to the left),

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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NZ First leader, Winston Peters, being interviewed by a MSM journalist,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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A panoramic view of part of the assembled crowd,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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Green MP, Jan Logie; NZ First leader, Winston Peters, and NZ First MP, Andrew Williams, at the stacked petition boxes. At this point, the  invited guest-speakers were preparing themselves – and  their notes – to address the crowd and media,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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With a  unique style and flair she has become reknowned for, Moana Maniapoto Jackson welcomed people to today’s presentation of the petition,

“We are celebrating people power…”

Coaching the crowd, to chime in with “Ohhhh yeahhhh” as the chorus, Ms Maniapoto Jackson launched into a short protest-style song. Her powerful voice belted out the words, making her microphone and speakers practically redundant, as she filled Parliament with her lyrical sounds,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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“Hey, hey Mr John Key,

You say you’ve the mandate
We’re here to help,
it’s not too late,
People here are standing strong
a hundred thousand – can’t be wrong
We’re here to help you get back on track,
Let’s stop the sales,
Let’s pull it back.

Crowd’s chorus, Ohhhhh Yeahhhhh!

All together now!

OHHHHH YEAHHHH!”

Ms Maniapoto Jackson then welcomed the first of “a long line of luminaries, that are positively glowing with energy and excitement as we deliver to the government a very strong call from New Zealanders.”

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To be continued at: 392,000 New Zealanders send a clear message to John Key – Part Rua

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Additional

Radio NZ: Petitioners confident of asset sale referendum

Dominion Post: Government to ignore asset sales referendum

NZ Herald: Asset sales petition arrives at Parliament

TV3: PHOTOS: Asset sales petition presented

TVNZ: Petition against SOE sales delivered to Parliament

Newstalk ZB: Opposition MPs greet anti-asset sales petition

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  • Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  • At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  • Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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A Clear Warning to Investors in SOEs…

11 March 2013 12 comments

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soe powercos

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The recent financial crisis and near-collapse of Solid Energy – one of the five, state owned enterprises planned for partial-privatisation – should serve as a warning for those investor-vultures circling to buy shares in any of the SOEs.

In fact, recent history regarding Air New Zealand, Kiwiwail, and (non-privatised) BNZ in 1991,  are indicators that privatisation of state assets is not a guaranteed roadmap to wealth,

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The Air New Zealand crash

Source

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It is noteworthy that one of the cause of Air New Zealand’s collapse was it’s foolhardy buy-out of Australian airline, Ansett,

First, the decision by Air New Zealand to pay dividends and second, the decision to buy the second half of Ansett. Both moves turned out to be considerably more beneficial to the interests of Brierleys than those of Air New Zealand.

Take the Ansett purchase. In early 1999, Cushing announced that Air New Zealand was vetoing Singapore Airline’s bid to buy News Corp’s 50% of Ansett Holdings (Air New Zealand had held the other 50% of Ansett since September 1996). Instead, it decided to pay News Corp $A580 million and get 100% control.

It’s most likely true that Air New Zealand paid too much for the stake and that directors had too little information about Ansett’s financial and engineering state. These are well-aired opinions, but are secondary to the main question that should be asked: Why did Air New Zealand buy the second half of Ansett at all? It’s not just that it was hopelessly out of its depth buying an airline twice its size. It’s just hard to see any benefits – to Air New Zealand, that is.

Source: IBID

On top of that were big dividend demands from one of Air Zealand’s major shareholders, Brierley’s,

The at times cash-strapped investment company held between 30% and 47% of shares over the period so, based on the total dividend of $765 million, Brierley reaped an estimated $250 million to $380 million from the airline. And Air New Zealand’s decision to buy the second half of Ansett, cutting Singapore Airlines out of the deal, contributed to Brierleys being able to do its own deal with Singapore.

In April last year, two months after Air New Zealand bought Ansett, Brierleys sold Singapore Airlines all its Air New Zealand “B” shares for $285 million, or $3 a share. It was arguably the last exit option for Brierleys from these shares, and, apart from a spike at the end of last year, Air New Zealand shares have largely tracked downwards ever since – they were trading around 30 cents as Unlimited went to press.

Source: IBID

In other words, Air New Zealand had over-extended in unwise investments (as has Solid Energy), and was bled dry by rapacious demands for dividends (as did Faye Richwhite in NZ Rail in the early 1990s).

How does this relate to the upcoming partial-sale of Mighty River Power?

Recent revelations that Mighty River Power has shaky investments on Chile, should cause potential investors to pause for thought,

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Key struggles to push Chilean investments

Source

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According to the TV3 story above, “Mighty River Power has spent $250 million at the geothermal plant in southern Chile, but has just written off $89 million as the investments struggle“.

To which Key responded casually,

There is always risk.”

Dear Leader  seems somewhat blase about investors’ risks? Of course he is. It’s not his money.

The Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit (COMU) reported,

Impairments

During the period, the Company recognised $91.4 million of impairments principally reflecting its investment in the GeoGlobal Partners I Fund (GGE Fund), and its greenfield explorations for potential developments in Chile and Germany.

This impairment followed higher than expected costs at the Tolhuaca project in Chile due to the worst winter in 40 years adversely affecting drilling performance and only one of the two wells having proven production capacity. The value of GGE’s investment at Weiheim in Germany, has been impacted by increased costs due to required changes in the drilling location following the 3D seismic surveys and delays from environmental court challenges which have been resolved post balance date.

The GGE Fund had not raised capital from other investors by the end of the 2012 and Mighty River Power made the decision not to invest further capital into the existing structure. Overall, the impairment charge of $88.9 million for the German and Tolhuaca assets and the management company of GGE LLC leaves a residual book value of $91.8 million.

Source: Mighty River Power LtdResults for Announcement to the Market

On top of  Mighty River Power’s dodgy investment in Chile, New Zealand is now experiencing what is being called the worst drought in seven decades  (see:  North Island’s worst drought in 70 years). As Climate scientist Jim Salinger said about New Zealand’s current weather patterns continuing, and becoming  similar to the Mediterranean,

What it means is that if it just doesn’t rain for at least four months of the year, it means you have to bring in your water from elsewhere.”

Source: IBID

As all investors should bear in mind; most of our power generation is generated from  hydro stations. Mighty River Power, especially, derives most of its electricity from eight  hydro-electric stations on the Waikato River.

Mighty River Power CEO, Doug Heffernan has given a clear warning,

Following the lower than average inflows into the Waikato catchment during the last quarter [to December 31], Mighty River ended the half year at just 69 per cent of historical average [hydro storage].”

And Equity analyst Phillip Anderson of Devon Funds stated,

The same period last year they got really strong inflows, and this is the exact opposite . . .

In the second half of this reporting year they’re going to have to buy a lot more electricity to feed their customers, either on the spot market at a lot higher cost or use their [Southdown] gas plant.

We expect the second half of this year is going to be a lot tougher for them, they should get their margins squeezed if that all plays out.”

Source: Parched Waikato could hit Mighty River Power

The equation is blindingly simple,

Less rain = less water = less electricity generation

The question that begs to be asked is; where does the risk of investing in SOEs fall – private investors, or the State?

The answer I submit to the reader is, that like Air New Zealand, it will be private investors who bear the brunt of all risk. The State will simply pick up the pieces,  buying up shares at bargain basement prices, should anything go wrong.

Electricity generators like Mighty River Power will simply never be allowed to fail. Had the Labour government in 2001 allowed Air New Zealand to collapse, the fall-out to the rest of the reconomy would have been too horrendous to contemplate, and flow-on effects to other businesses (eg; exporters and tourism) and the economy would have been worse than any bail-out.

But any bailout will involve a massive loss for investors, as their share-value plummets. Again, Air New Zealand was an example to us all.

As the impact of climate change creates more uncertainly for our state power companies, investors need to think carefully before committing one single dollar toward buying shares,

Do I really want to bear all the risk?

Those who lost out on their investments in Air New Zealand in the 1990s will probably answer,

No.

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References

The Air New Zealand crash (1 November 2001)

A history of bailouts (7 April 2011)

Foreigners important for SOE sell-downs: Treasury (30 June 2011)

No law stopping foreign investors (16 Dec 2011)

Parched Waikato could hit Mighty River Power (22 Feb 2013)

Mighty River Power shares float mid-May (4 March 2013)

Taking the plunge in Mighty River (9 March 2013)

Key struggles to push Chilean investments (9 March 2013)

North Island’s worst drought in 70 years (10 March 2013)

Other blogs

Seemorerocks: An Appeal for a New Zealand Risk Assessment

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Dear Leader Key blames everyone else for Solid Energy’s financial crisis (Part Rua)

9 March 2013 7 comments

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national blighted hoarding 12 it's all labour's fault

Acknowledgement

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Continued from: Dear Leader Key blames everyone else for Solid Energy’s financial crisis

Opposition Party members of the Commerce Select Committee are demanding that  ex-CEO, Don Elder appear before the Select Committee to answer questions what went wrong at Solid Energy.

With unanswered questions about Solid Energy’s financial crisis; a murky history leading up to current events; big bonuses paid out as the company’s accounts were sinking into the red; and revelations that Don Elder is still recieving his  $1.3 million annual salary  – whilst working from home “serving out his notice” – pressure is mounting on National.

Solid Energy went from a multi-billion dollar company to being heavily indebited to $389 million.

How did this happen?

Did ministerial shareholders Bill English and Tony Ryall not notice?

Were they not receiving reports from Solid Energy’s Board of Directors?

Were no rumours or conversations floating around?

How does one keep a secret like that in a small country like New Zealand? (In which case  should Solid Energy take over our country’s security, from the GCSB and SIS?)

Why were we paying Don Elder for ($1.3 million p.a., plus bonuses no doubt) if not to be held to account?

On 8 March, Key was reported as saying,

“If he wants to go [to the Select Committee hearings] and they want him to go he is not going to get any opposition from my office.”

Source

And SOE Minister chipped in with this,

“It’s a matter for the Commerce Select Committee, Solid Energy and Dr Elder whether or not Dr Elder attends, but I don’t have a problem either way.”

IBID

Good. Because the public – who own Solid Energy – deserve answers. Thus far all we’ve had is the usual finger-pointing by National, with childishly pathetic  attempts to blame Labour for Solid Energy’s woes. As if Labour was still in government and the 2008 and 2011 general elections never happened.

This statement from Key, on 26 February 2013, simply doesn’t wash,

“They  [Labour] can’t wash their hands of the fact that from 2003 on, they were intimately involved with the plans that that company had.

The argument that somehow we would have gone in, in 2009 when the company was performing well, its results were good, the valuation of the company was going up, and just gone and sacked the board on day one is a bit fanciful.

Maybe we should have re-tested those [Labour-approved] initiatives but actually we gave [Labour] the benefit of the doubt that they might get one thing right.”

Source

“2003”?

That was ten years ago!  What has National been doing in the meantime?

As far back as September 2011, the Nats were abundantly aware that Solid Energy was embarking on expansion plans,

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Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant

Friday, 9 September 2011, 2:57 pm
Press Release: Solid Energy NZ

9 September 2011

Solid Energy marks the start of work at its Mataura Briquette Plant

The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.

The $25 million Mataura briquette plant is planned to start production by June 2012. It will produce up to 90,000 tonnes a year of low-moisture and higher-energy briquettes from about 150,000 tonnes of lignite mined from Solid Energy’s New Vale Opencast Mine and trucked to the Craig Road site. The plant will use technology developed in the USA by GTL Energy.

Source

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Here’s the photographic evidence, from National’s own ‘Flickr’ account, same date, 9 September 2011 – that’s Finance Minister Bill English, “turning the first sod of earth” for Solid Energy’s  Mataura Briquette Plant  in Southland. That plant was part of their expansion plans,

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solid-energy-chief-executive-don-elder-and-hon-bill-english-at-mataura-9-sept-2011

Source

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Only three months earlier, in June 2011, Key himself was supporting Solid Energy’s explansion plans,

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national business review - nbr - Key supports Solid Energy's lignite plans

Source

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Note Key’s comment in the above article in the National Business Review (hardly a leftist rag),

At the moment companies like Solid Energy are growth companies and we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion.”

So for Dear Leader to blame Labour is not only disingenuous – it is cowardly.

It shows the entire country that the man who is supposedly or Prime Minister hasn’t got the balls to take it on the chin and admit that he and his Party f****d up. Big time.

Even the editorial from the Dominion Post said, with unconcealed exasperation on 2 March 2013,

There are always excuses when a company starts to fail. John Key’s explanation for the trouble at Solid Energy, however – he blamed the Labour government – was pitiful.

It was Trevor Mallard’s fault, apparently, for encouraging SOEs to spread their wings and fly. That was in 2007 or 2008.

This won’t do, and not just because Mr Key’s Government has been in power for more than four years. His argument also contradicts itself. A Labour government was seemingly omnipotent and could have its way with the state-owned coal company. But National had no such power.

The Government certainly said no when Solid Energy asked for a billion dollars to turn itself into a super-company along the lines of Petrobras, the Brazilian giant. Mr Key says it had grave doubts about the company’s expansion plans. His political opponents point out that he and Bill English had publicly backed Solid Energy’s big plans for lignite conversion and briquetting.

Source

This blogger welcomes Don Elder fronting up to the Commerce Select Committee.  However, that is simply not sufficient. In the interests of full justice, the following should occur,

  • John Key should front up and answer questions as well,
  • Bill English should front up and answer questions,
  • Tony Ryall should front up and answer questions,
  • All documentation should be made available to the Committee,
  • The Chairperson of the Select Committee – National MP Jonathan Young, should stand aside and  be replaced by a non-partisan senior judge or Queen’s Counsel,
  • If necessary, if the Committee is unable to answer questions, a full Royal Commission in Inquiry should be held.

National prides itself on being the party of ‘personal responsibility‘. It is no such thing. It is the party of personal advantage and not much more.

Thus far all we’ve had are evasiveness  and pathetic attempts to blame others. We’re also seeing more of the same from our Prime Minister;  bullshit.

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Previous related blogposts

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2

Dear Leader Key blames everyone else for Solid Energy’s financial crisis

Taking responsibility, National-style

References

NZ National Party: Solid Energy chief executive, Don Elder and Hon Bill English at Mataura (9 Sept 2011)

Scoop.co.nz: Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant (9 Sept 2011)

NBR: Key supports Solid Energy’s lignite plans (3 June 2011)

TV3: Govt, Labour squabble over Solid Energy (26 Feb 2013)

Dominion Post: Editorial: Solid Energy excuses fuel anger (2 March 2013)

TVNZ: Pressure grows on Don Elder to front over Solid Energy (8 March 2013)

Fairfax media: Minister, PM fine for Elder to appear for grilling (8 March 2013)

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