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Posts Tagged ‘Simon Power’

The Mendacities of Ms Amy Adams – “hidden borrowing”?!

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National is at it again;  indulging in rank hypocrisy by criticising the Labour-NZ First- Green Coalition Government of policies that they themselves carried out.

This time, the National Party’s finance spokesperson, Amy Adams, has accused the Coalition Government of “hiding away debt” in SOEs. Speaking to Mediawork’s Newshub, she protested;

“…If you actually look at where Grant Robertson has hidden another six billion dollars of borrowing in Crown entities, total borrowing has actually gone up almost $17 billion. And if you look at it in that way, it’s going to take up our debt-to-GDP ratio to above the 20% target in 2022. So I think he’s being very tricky in fudging the numbers and hiding $6 billion more debt in that Crown entity space.”

Ms Adams has apparently “forgotten” that the previous National government did precisely what she is now alleging that the Coalition is doing.

By  2009, the Global Financial Crisis began to heavily impact on the National Government’s tax revenue. Except for GST, company, individual, duties, and other revenue were down;

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Despite the fall in taxation and other revenue, National proceeded  with it’s first tranche of tax cuts in April 2009. According to then-Finance Minister, Bill English, the 2009 tax cut represented a $1 billion loss of revenue to the National government;

“About 1.5 million workers will receive a personal tax cut, injecting an extra $1 billion into the economy in the coming year.”

This presented a serious problem for National, as it was borrowing $450 million per week, by December 2009, according to BNZ Capital economist, Craig Ebert.

This left National in dire straits. Government revenue was collapsing; borrowing was ballooning – and worse was to come. National had tax cuts planned for the following year. They would be estimated to cost government at least $2 billion in lost revenue.

National’s Cabinet came up with a novel ‘solution’: State-owned enterprises would be treated as ‘cash cows’. Each SOE would be instructed to borrow to their maximum limit and “… release all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends“.

In May 2009, then-SOE Minister, Simon Power, issued this letter to all relevant state owned enterprises. Note the red-highlighted portions;

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(Please note that the above version differs slights from the text provided in the NZ Herald version. Some of the redactions above re-appear in the NZ Herald version.)

By November 2011, a Treasuring scoping-study revealed that Solid Energy was experiencing severe financial problems. National’s Ministers were officially advised of Solid Energy’s precarious financial state, but this would not become public knowledge until two years later, in February 2013.

By August 2015, Solid Energy was placed into voluntary administration. By March this year, the liquidation process was near to completion.

Interestingly, the Herald story announcing the final stages stages of liquidation stated only;

Solid Energy first started its downward spiral in 2013 when global coal costs plummeted, exposing its commercial error in carrying substantial debt on its balance sheet.

There was no mentioned of the tens of millions of dollars expropriated by the National government after it’s letter-of-demand from Simon Power in 2009.

Neither was there a mention of the debt levels forced upon Solid Energy;

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 [2012].

In fact, Solid Energy was bankrupted not only because of it’s high debt levels (four times higher than in 2008/09), but because National demanded 65% of cash reserves to be paid to the government as “special dividends”, as the CCMAU document below shows;

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Solid Energy had meagre cash reserves remaining when the international price of coal fell, reducing it’s income.

Neither did it help when  National abruptly reneged on it’s subsidy to Solid Energy to  generate bio-fuels. National implemented it’s subsidy in 2008 – and scrapped it in 2012.

That decision left Solid Energy with a bio-fuels subsidiary (Biodiesel New Zealand) that was suddenly uneconomical to produce.

Adding insult to injury, and perhaps one of former Dear Leader  John Key’s worst case of misdirected blame-gaming, he lamented the collapse of Solid Energy;

“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”.

Through incompetence;  election year tax bribes that sent sovereign debt soaring and government deficits ballooning; SOE management that failed to assert independence from Ministerial interference; a willingness to strip SOEs of their cash; and demanding that they ramp up their “gearing” (borrowing/indebtedness) – like a fiscal vampire, National sucked Solid Energy dry.

So that combined with the removal of biofuels subsidies and a collapse in international coal prices, the final ‘leg’ of the three-legged stool – unsustainable debt and depleted cash reserves – was enough to send Solid Energy spiralling down into bankruptcy.

It is against this backdrop of “hidden borrowing” by National, that undermined and destroyed one SOE, that Ms Adams is now accusing the Coalition government of the same thing.

National has a distinctly predictable habit of blaming it’s political opponents for behaviour that it itself is guilty off.

Accordingly, Ms Adams wins this dubious “merit award”…

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Postscript: Amy Adams was elected into Parliament on 8 November 2008. She therefore shares collective responsibility for the  demise of Solid Energy, along with her colleagues, Bill English, John Key, Tony Ryall, and Simon Power.

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References

Mediaworks/Newshub: Govt not honest about debt in new Budget – Amy Adams

IRD: Revenue collected 2008 to 2017

Scoop media: Rankin -Tax Cuts 2009-2011

Scoop media: Government delivers April 1 tax cuts, SME changes

Otago Daily Times: Government now borrowing $450 million a week – claim

NBR: Key again defends tax cuts

Scoop media: Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

NZ Herald: Simon Power letter to SOEs, May 2009

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

Fairfax media: Solid Energy in debt crisis talks

Fairfax media: Solid Energy announces voluntary administration ahead of sale

NZ Herald: Solid Energy enters final stages of liquidation process

Fairfax media: Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told

Treasury: Solid Energy Information Release March 2013 (Document 1875419)

Fairfax media: Biodiesel loses subsidy, prices to rise

NZ Herald: Solid Energy half year profit down as coal export price falls

Fairfax media: State miner to return to coalface

Additional

Other Blogs

The Standard: The real reason Solid Energy is failing

The Standard: Has John Key jumped the shark?

Previous related blogposts

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

Solid Energy and LandCorp – debt and doom, courtesy of a “fiscally responsible” National Govt

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 May 2018.

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Solid Energy and LandCorp – debt and doom, courtesy of a “fiscally responsible” National Govt

28 December 2015 3 comments

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

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In May 2013, I first reported on National’s gutting of Solid Energy, detailing how Finance Minister Bill English and then-SOE Minister, Simon Power, had used the State Owned Enterprise as a cash-cow, to assist the government to balance it’s books;

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

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The story details National’s ministerial interference on Solid’s Energy’s financial affairs; under-mining (pun unintended) it’s bio-fuels programme; and extracting huge dividends, as well as taxes paid, to fill government coffers.

At the end, as Solid Energy teetered on collapse, National ministers did what National ministers do in time of crisis; they blamed others for the crisis;

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Prime Minister criticises Solid Energy

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Solid Energy was in debt. But not to “diversify” as Key claimed. The Prime Minister lied.

The debt was due in large part to Ministerial demands that Solid Energy borrow BIG, and pass those borrowings onto the government. This was a piece of accounting trickery, so National could claim, hand-on-heart, that it was not borrowing billions more. In actuality, the SOEs were doing the borrowing, and then passing the cash on to it’s shareholder, the government. This was borrowing-by-proxy by the government.

That is how desperate National was to claw back as much lost revenue due to the Global Financial Crisis/Recession, and unaffordable two tax cuts (2009, 2010) which they had promised during their 2008 election campaign and which has cost government an estimated $4.5 billion annually.

In 2009, English instructed all SOEs to increase their debt. This Statement of  Corporate Intent is clear in National’s expectations;

I would like all SOEs to increase their gearing from current levels, to a level more consistent with a BBB flat credit rating. In this regard, I have been advised by officials that Solid Energy may have the capacity to sustain a 40% gearing ratio.

I urge the Solid Energy Board to give serious consideration to this proposal, and to release all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends. “

Not only was National instructing SOEs (including Solid Energy) to borrow more (and then pass the cash on to the Government’s Consolidated Fund), it was also openly raiding their bank accounts by demanding “all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends“.

Furthermore,  not only were English and Power expecting higher profits diverted from SOEs, they  demanded two dividends per year instead of just one;

“I would also like to standardise and simplify the dividend policy for all SOEs, to ensure that a larger and more consistent share of profits is returned to the Crown as shareholder.

In this regard, I propose that the Solid Energy Board give serious consideration to adopting a dividend policy equal to 65% of operating cash flows (including net interest paid) from 1 July 2009.

Related to dividend policy, I wish to outline an expectation that all SOEs pay two dividends per year, an interim and a final dividend.”

On  18 August 2009, Bill English met with Solid Energy’s then-Chairperson, John Palmer. After that meeting, Solid Energy increased its gearing (borrowing/debt) from around 25% to 35%, and changed the way it  accounted for mine rehabilitation costs.

This was a cash-grab on an unprecedented scale, and one that went largely un-noticed by media, Parliamentary Opposition, and the public.

On 13 March 2013, soon after Solid Energy’s massive $389 million debt became public, English was forced to concede that  National has mishandled governance of Solid Energy;

“The decisions about how much debt to incur was made by the board.

In Solid Energy’s case it turned out that a company operating in the world coal market, which is now so volatile, would have been better off with no debt – in retrospect that’s easy to see, at the time it wasn’t.”

However, in claiming that “decisions about how much debt to incur was made by the board“, the Finance Minister lied.

Solid Energy had been directed to increase it’s debt by Ministers English and Power – not by the SOE’s Board. The Treasury document above are a paper-trail evidencing National’s determination to increase it’s revenue at any costs (literally).

Both Key and English have consistently lied on this issue.

More recently, on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on Friday 14 August, Guyon Espiner interviewed Finance Minister, Bill English, on Solid Energy’s corporate demise.

At one point, under persistent questioning by ‘Checkpoint‘ host, Guyon Espiner, English admitted National’s role in Solid Energy’s financial woes;

Espiner: But I’ll tell you what you also did, and you’ll remember this well in 2009, you looked at the balance sheets of SOEs and you decided that many of them could carry more debt and in fact you presided over a massive expansion in Solid Energy’s debt and in formal letters your government encouraged them to significantly increase their debt. That was a mistake wasn’t it?

English: Well, at the time it was valued, well actually that time, was valued about $3 billion and they took debt up to $300 million. It was a… As it turned out it was the pressure that put on the cash flow, well, the issues it raised, that got the government and, ah, the officials differing with the Board and that’s all on the record.

Espiner: Yes, so why did you, because you took their gearing ratio from about 14% in 09 up to 35% in 2010, 41% in 2012. So you presided, in fact, encouraged Solid Energy to take on the debt that they have eventually drowned in.

English: Well we worked with the Board over , over making sure the Crown was actually getting something out of the business. Um, certainly, in retrospect the debt levels got too high [garbled].

Espiner: So do you take the blame for that? Because, you failed there. You encouraged them to take on more debt and they’ve drowned in it.

English: Ahh, between us and the company, yes, we’re responsible for that.

There we have it. Under Espiner’s persistant questioning and quoting of facts, English had no place to hide; no one else to blame; and no lies he could resort to.

English had admitted that his government had gutted Solid Energy, and used it as a proxy for borrowing.

Then, under further questioning, English made one of the more bizarre assertions ever made by a politician (incest, chem-trails, and  moonlanding hoaxes notwithstanding);

Espiner: What about the dividend programme? You stripped more than $160 million in dividends out of this company over four years. Was that a good thing to do, given the state of the company, and couldn’t if they’d reinvested that money in the company been in some sort of position to keep the thing afloat?

English: Ah, no, precisely the opposite. And this has been the case with SOEs for years. If you leave the cash in there, generally, ah, they waste it. And, ah, in fact, one of the interactions here was we required a dividend because it was a company that was making money –

Espiner: Well hang on. Sorry to interrupt you but that’s an extraordinary statement to make, ‘You leave the cash in there and they waste it’?

National, of course, never wastes money. They never waste money on subsidising Rio Tinto; subsidising SkyCity; subsidising Charter Schools; subsidising Hollywood corporations like Warner Bros; subsidising Saudi businessmen to the tune of $11.5 million. Nor does National waste money on two tax cuts which were utterly unaffordable, being funded by  heavy overseas borrowing.

Espiner quite rightly mocked English’s ludicrous justification for government looting of Solid Energy;

Espiner: So it was better for you to take the money out, put it in the Consolidated Fund, let the company take on more debt, and they’ve eventually blown up.

This is the party that many New Zealanders believe is a “fiscally responsible manager of our economy”?!

Unfortunately, National’s mis-management does not end there.

The latest SOE to disclose financial difficulties is Landcorp;

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Landcorp in 'pretty tight situation' – English

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Landcorp’s current liabilities amount to $359 million, whilst it’s assets amount to $1.846 billion, according to the company’s half-yearly statement.

What is not mentioned anywhere is that, according to a document from Treasury’s Crown Company Monitoring Advisory Unit (CCMAU), the National Government sent a letter to Landcorp’s Board  making similar demands for higher dividends that it made to Solid Energy;

Firstly, as the CCMAU chart below shows, National’s expectations were that Landcorp increase its “gearing” (borrowed funds against a company’s equity) from 11% to 20% – a near doubling;

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CCMAU - SOE gearing and dividend expectations - national government

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Note also that National demanded 75% of Landcorp’s net operating profit as a dividend; two dividend payments per year;  and  as much as  100% of operating cash flow.

In a 2009 letter to Landcorp, Ministers Bill English and Simon Power demanded the following from the SOE’s Board;

“I am minded to increase the gearing of all SOEs from current levels, to a level more consistent with a BBB flat credit rating. In this regard, I have been advised by officials that Landcorp may have the capacity to sustain a 20% gearing ratio. I urge the Landcorp Board to give serious consideration to this proposal, and to release all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends.

I am also minded to standardise and simplify the dividend policy for all SOEs, to ensure that a larger and more reliable share of profits is returned to the Crown, as shareholder. In this regard, I propose that the Landcorp Board gives serious consideration to adopting a dividend policy equal to 100% of operating cash flows (including net interest paid) from 1 July 2009.

Related to dividend policy, I wish to outline an expectation that all SOEs pay two dividends per year, an interim and a final dividend.”

In the same letter, English and Powers  outlined revising “the land sale moratorium imposed on Landcorp as part of the Protected Land Agreement (PLA)“.

The letter to Solid Energy followed the same pattern;

I would like all SOEs to increase their gearing from current levels, to a level more consistent with a BBB flat credit rating. In this regard, I have been advised by officials that Solid Energy may have the capacity to sustain a 40% gearing ratio. I urge the Solid Energy Board to give serious consideration to this proposal, and to release all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends. I note that Solid Energy currently has a gearing target of 35%, including the company’s rehabilitation liability as if it were debt.

Given that the nature of the rehabilitation liability is significantly different from debt, I am sceptical that this is an appropriate treatment. I have asked my officials to engage with you on this issue.

I would also like to standardise and simplify the dividend policy for all SOEs, to ensure that a larger and more consistent share of profits is returned to the Crown as shareholder.

In this regard, I propose that the Solid Energy Board give serious consideration to adopting a dividend policy equal to 65% of operating cash flows (including net interest paid) from 1 July 2009.

Related to dividend policy, I wish to outline an expectation that all SOEs pay two dividends per year, an interim and a final dividend.

Almost identical letters. Except for the 20% gearing ratio, which differed from Solid Energy’s more onerous 40%, the demands placed on Landcorp were the same; high gearing (borrowing); higher dividends; and all surplus cash to be paid over to the Crown.

National was looting every SOE of every spare dollar.

The questions now demanding  answers;

  • How many other SOEs have been left in a similar parlous state to Solid Energy and Landcorp?
  • How much damage has been caused to SOEs due to unreasonable dividend and cash demands made to their Boards?
  • How much longer are New Zealanders willing to maintain the fiction that National is a “prudent fiscal manager of the economy”?

And the last question;

  • Which SOE will be next to disclose a dire financial state?

For Bill English and John Key, a whole bunch of chickens have suddenly come home to roost.

Some very, very expensive chickens.

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References

Radio NZ: Prime Minister criticises Solid Energy

Green Party: Asset sales bring in less than cost of National’s tax cuts to top 10%

Treasury: Solid Energy Information Release March 2013 (Document 1875419)

Treasury: Solid Energy Information Release March 2013 (Document 1732352)

TV3 News: Solid Energy was allowed to increase debt

Radio NZ: Morning Report – English defends Govt’s record over Solid Energy (alt. link)

TV3 News: Landcorp in ‘pretty tight situation’ – English

New Zealand Farming Landcorp Farming Limited: Half year report for the six months ended 31 December 2014

Additional

Radio NZ: When is an asset sale not an asset sale?

Previous related blogposts

The real cause for Solid Energy mass redundancies?

Dirty Dealings with Solid Energy

That was Then, This is Now #18 (Solid Energy)

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

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

Mediaworks, Solid Energy, and National Standards

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solid energy - english - ryall

 

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The second colonisation of New Zealand

1 October 2011 9 comments

This recent story in the media should give us all cause for concern,

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Full Story

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I should start with a disclaimer: I hold no real enthusiasm nor liking for  Michael Fay’s method of operation. He and his colleague, David Richwhite, gutted NZ Rail during their tenure as part-owners of that asset.  (The  New Zealand Securities Commission  investigation into Fay & Richwhite’s alleged insider trading – and whilst no prosecution resulted – did result in an out-of-court settlement, where they paid NZ$20 million to the Securities Commission in June, 2007. )

As taxpayers, we are still paying for the upgrading and  maintenance of railways that was neglected during 15 years of private ownership.

However, the reality is that Michael Fay is leading a New Zealand consortium to buy the 16 Crafar farms. These farms amount to 11,000ha of property throughout the central North Island.   Their transfer into foreign control would be a significant loss to the NZ economy.

There are three  major issues highlighted by this story, and another,  that convincingly illustrate why overseas investors should be permanently denied ownership (or even  leasing) of our productive farmland.

Issue 1:

“Receiver KordaMentha has formally declined the Fay group’s $171.5 million offer for the 16 central and lower North Island farms, saying the conditional offer it has accepted from Chinese group Shanghai Pengxin “was by far the best offer at [that] time and remains so today”…

… “Our offer is at a price we firmly believe makes sense it that we are paying the right price for the long-term farming future of these properties,” the group’s negotiator Steve Bignell said. “ Source

This illustrates the risk of permitting foreign interests to bid for our farms. Foreign investors (generally) have very, very deep pockets. When even a millionaire such as Michael Fay can be out-bid  – we need to ask ourselves how ordinary New Zealanders can compete with foreign investors.

In a bidding war, New Zealanders will always lose. Our sons and daughters have zero chance and nil opportunities to own a slice of our country’s natural wealth, when faced with the near-limitless resources from overseas buyers.

We may not like Michael Fay, but  at least he represents an opportunity to keep the Crafar farms – and the wealth they create – in local ownership. That he is unable to acquire these properties because he has been out-bid to the tune of $38.5 million dollars is disturbing.

I believe it is a sign of things to come.

Issue 2:

“Over a certain price level, these farms don’t work.”Ibid

If true, then the question that begs to be asked is: why? Why are overseas investors willing to pay inflated prices for our productive farmlands?

The answer is not very complicated nor obscure.

The human population on Planet Earth has reached 7 billion.

By 2050AD it is estimated that the population will reach 9 billion.

All 9 billion will require food – lots of it.  And unfortunately for the Human race, there is only a limited amount of arable land on this little planet of ours. With ongoing desertification, arable land is reducing each year. Soil erosion  is another factor in this problem.

On top of that, as populations increase, so does pressure on food supply. In countries such as India and China, as their middle classes grow and become  more affluent, they will demand access to more and better food.

Countries such as New Zealand offer sources of clean, well-processed, safe, reliable, sources of protein.

In other words: supply and demand.

Just as the U.S. has cornered oil supplies in the Middle East, growing economies in the East and elsewhere will look to “cornering” nett-food suppliers. It is interestimng that the Prime Minister, John Key, alluded to this matter at a public meeting in Lower Hutt, on 24 May. He stated that China’s centralised, autocratic government could not afford to risk disruption to their domestic food production; a hungry population; and a subsequent “Arab Spring”-style uprising.

No government on Earth could withstand one billion hungry people in revolt.

Key hinted that China’s acquisition of land in Africa and here in New Zealand was based on a strategic need to secure food sources.

If true, money is no object. After all, you cannot feed money to hungry mouths.

In which case, it is little wonder that Shanghai Pengxin’s offer for the Crafar farms is “over a certain price level“. China is not interested in selling the food for profit. It is seeking the food for it’s own population. Because by 2050, one billion Chinese will have eight billion other competitors seeking the same food source.

This is what ‘Shanghai Pengxin‘ spokesman Cedric Allan said,

“…  while it initially intends to continue supplying Fonterra with raw milk investment plans include working “in partnership” with an existing processor to develop baby formula, ice cream and cheeses suitable for Asian markets.

“We do not intend to be simply a customer of a dairy processor.

“To ensure the processor can produce long term and if they needed to increase their capacity to do so then we could help them with that.

“We have no wish to own or control a processor, other than to make sure they are in a position to provide surety long term.” “ Source

Again, no individual New Zealander(s) can hope to compete against  that kind of long-term acquisition-strategy.

Issue 3:

Shanghai Pengxin has lodged its application with the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) to buy the Crafar portfolio after Natural Dairy’s application was rejected.” – 18 April 2011 Source

The OIO (Overseas Investment Office) usually takes between 30 working days (Category 1 applications) to 70 working days (Category 3 applications). Source.

It has been approximately 115 working days since Shanghai Pengxin  lodged its application with the Overseas Investment Office.

One can only assume that,

(a) the OIO has mis-placed Shanghai Pengxin’s application (have they looked behind their cafetaria sofa?).

(b) the OIO has been “requested” by the Minister-in-charge to “review” Shanghai Pengxin’s application. And to report back sometime after the election.

The sale of the  16 Crafar farms is politically explosive. It would do to National what “Corngate” did to Labour in 2002. National cannot risk this matter affecting their re-election chances in November.

Which is why I am betting that,

1. We will not see a decision from the OIO any time this year.

2. The Fay-led consortium will fail.

3. The Shanghai Pengxin application will be approved.

The sale of New Zealand will accelerate, and with the apathetic acceptance of the majority of New Zealanders.

Just how gullible are we?

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+++ Updates +++

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Source

Fay said the group of farmers had “serious concerns” about the state-owned farming corporation’s role with Shanghai Pengxin, whose bid for the 16 in-receivership dairy farms is conditional on getting Overseas Investment Office consent.

“Landcorp is well known in the farming community for buying farm land in competition with locals – effectively using taxpayers’ money to outbid those same taxpayers,” Fay said.

Fairfax revealed recently that Landcorp was in preliminary talks with Pengxin for the job of managing or sharemilking the farms if the Chinese company is successful in buying them.

It has been nearly seven months since Pengxin applied to the OIO for consent.

Fay said Landcorp seems to have become “utterly confused” about its purpose and could have allowed itself to be used as a pawn in the deal – “just to give the Chinese bids an acceptable local face”.

Fay’s group has offered receivers KordaMentha $171.5 million for the farms. Its bid has been declined as too low but the farmers consider their offer “still live”.

Through its OIA request, the farmer group has asked Landcorp to provide all details of its dealings and correspondence with Pengxin, any correspondence it may have had with the OIO, and all correspondence between Landcorp and an unsuccessful bidder for the Crafar farms, Chinese group Natural Dairy and May Wang’s UBNZ companies.

The farmers say they are making a single bid for the Crafar farms because the receivers require it, but if successful they would split the farms up between them to be owner-operated.

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The Big Questions that need to be asked here are;

  1. Why is Landcorp – a State Owned Enterprise (SOE) – working with overseas interests rather than local investors and taxpayers?
  2. Is this an acceptable use of taxpayers’ money and resources?
  3. What is the government’s position on a SOE working with a foreign company, against New Zealand investors?
  4. Has Landcorp  offered to work with the Fay-led consortium? If not, why not?

Perhaps it is appropriate for these questions to be put to Landcorp’s Chief Executive, Chris Kelly, and Shareholding Minister, Simon Power?

Especially when, amongst it’s various “Mission Statements”, “Statement of Corporate Intent”, etc, we find the find Objectives that Landcorp is committed to,

“1.1

– To exhibit a sense of social responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates and by endeavouring to accomodate or encourage these when able to do so.

1.4

– To provide the shareholders with maximum sustainable returns by;

Meeting social obligations.

5.4  Opportunities, risks and returns affecting or likely to affect Landcorp,

Returns through,

– stabilisation of rural land values.”

Source: State of Corporate Intent 2011-2014 (PDF)

None of the above seems consistent with supporting a foreign-based investor-takeover of New Zealand farmland, instead of a local initiative.

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from:    [email]
to:         Simon Power <simon.power@parliament.govt.nz>, Chris Kelly <kellyc@landcorp.co.nz>
date:    Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 12:33 AM
subject:    Landcorp & Shanghai Pengxin

Sir,

According to recent media reports Landcorp  “is in preliminary talks with Pengxin for the job of managing or sharemilking the 16 Crafar  farms if the Chinese company ( Shanghai Pengxin) is successful in buying them.”

Landcorp appears to be supporting Shanghai Pengxin’s bid to purchase the Crafar farms over an offer by a local consortium, led by Sir Michael Fay.

Could you please explain how a New Zealand crown-entity – namely Landcorp, which is owned and resourced by New Zealand taxpayers – can appear to be supporting a foreign bid to gain control of large areas of productive New Zealand farmland; soliciting business from said investors; and thereby undermining a local bid?

Could you please explain how Landcorp can be associated with a foreign investor, instead of local investors, when their Objectives (2011-2014) specifically require Landcorp to be  committed to;

“1.1

– To exhibit a sense of social responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates and by endeavouring to accomodate or encourage these when able to do so.

1.4

– To provide the shareholders with maximum sustainable returns by;

Meeting social obligations.

5.4  Opportunities, risks and returns affecting or likely to affect Landcorp,

Returns through,
– stabilisation of rural land values.”

In view of the above stated objectives, it would appear to make better sense if Landcorp were to support the Fay-led consortium, rather than overseas interests. Considering that Landcorp is owned by New Zealand taxpayers, it seems to be a fair expectation that Landcorp support local investors rather than overseas individuals and/or corporations.

I await your response to this matter.

-Frank Macskasy
– Blog-author, “Frankly Speaking”

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Chris Kelly responded the following day with this response,

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from:    Chris Kelly kellyc@landcorp.co.nz
to:    [email]
date:    Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 4:33 AM
subject:    Re: Landcorp & Shanghai Pengxin

Dear Frank M

If and only if Pengxin have OIO approval to buy Crafar farms might Landcorp be involved in managing the farms.
Land corps preferred option was to buy them ourselves.
We would be happy to work with the Fay consortium.We have not been approached by them.
Landcorp has not been in contact with the OIO to assist Pengxin to buy the farms.

Regards, Chris Kelly

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Which begged the obvious question in return,

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from:    [email]
to:    Chris Kelly <kellyc@landcorp.co.nz>
date:    Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 8:52 AM
subject:    Re: Landcorp & Shanghai Pengxin

Dear Chris,

Thank you for your response.

Has Landcorp considered approaching the Fay-led consortium to offer a joint-bid for the Farms? If not, why not?

Thank you, in advance, for any light you can shed on this issue.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

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To which Chris Kelly replied,

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from:    Chris Kelly kellyc@landcorp.co.nz
to:    [email]
date:    Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 8:15 PM
subject:    Re: Landcorp & Shanghai Pengxin

Dear Frank,
We have not approached Fay.He represents a group of local farmers who want to break up the farms and run them as separate units.Landcorp wants to run them as a combined group.

Regards, Chris Kelly

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Which is interesting. If  Shanghai Pengxin buys the farms, there would be no guarantees how they are operated. Landcorp will have no control over their management whatsoever.

As a partner, in a Fay-led consortium, Landcorp would have a measure of control.

Is this making sense to anyone?

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Further Reading

Fay says xenophobia played no role in Crafar bid

Foreign Ownership of New Zealand’s Land

OIO Application Assessment & Timeframes

Farmland Grab

Shanghai Pengxin

Landcorp may bid for Crafar farms

Landcorp

Labour on farm sales – NOT good enough!

Kiwis against foreign ownership of farms

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Not all con-artists are in prison.

16 September 2011 3 comments

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As far back (or even further, if one looks harder) as 2006, National (and it’s little “buddy”, ACT)  was advocating privately-run prisons as a means of saving taxpayers money. They were supposedly more cost-effective, and would save the country considerable sums of money.

In June 2006, the then-National Party Law & Order Spokesman, Simon Power, said in a press release,

“Overseas experience indicates that contracting out prison operations reduces costs, both in the design and construction and in the management of prisons.”

Power was effusive in his enthusiasm for privately-managed prisons, going so far as to quote Treasury documents which also promoted the concept.

Labour ignores Treasury on private prisons

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National and ACT both promoted privately-managed prisons as a money-saving concept,

ACT’s Law & Order Policy:

“Action: Bring back private prisons – now best practice overseas. Let private firms free up cops for ‘Zero Tolerance’ policing. Speed up courts (eg. night courts) to reduce unfair delays.

Benefit: More secure, more humane, cheaper prisons. Young taggers don’t progress to worse crimes. People feel safer. More decisions sooner.”

ACT Policies

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National’s 2008 policy document, “Law and Order Policy: Prisons“, under the heading “The Management of Prisons” states (in part),

“The average per-prisoner cost over the five years of private management of ACRP from 2000-2005 was $42,720 per prisoner per annum, compared to the average cost for Corrections to keep a remand prisoner of $52,925in 2001/02. Of the original short list of four tenderers for ACRP, the Public Prisons Service was listed as fourth. Aside from cost advantages, Treasury has argued that contestability of prison management also encourages innovation in reducing recidivism…

…The British National Audit Office review of the private prison system in the UK concludes that “competition has helped drive up standards and improve efficiency across the prison system as a whole.”

National Law and Order Policy: Prisons

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Throughout the press releases, and policy documents, both National and ACT complain that  “Labour’s objection to private prisons has been ideological”.

It is also interesting to note that National compares the figure of $42,720 per prisoner per annum, over a five year period with that of $52,925 over a two year period.  Neither of National’s references provided on their policy paper can be verified on-line.  So it seems that National may be comparing an average figure over five years with an average figure over two years, which results in privately-run prisons appearing to be a cheaper option.

National’s dubious figures are then parroted by others, such as right-wing bloggers,

“Delighted to see the new Wiri prison will be openly tendered. Not only may it cost less, but more importantly it provides opportunities to have a lower escape rate, and a higher rehabilitation rate.”

Kiwiblog

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As someone infamous once said, if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.

In November 2009, the year-old National Government passed  legislation – under Urgency – permitting prisons to be handed over to private companies for management. Quite why this piece of legislation was considered “urgent” has never been made clear.

Private prisons bill passed

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Corrections Minister Judith Collins claimed that National’s previous experiment in privately-run prisons, in the late 1990s had been “generally positive”.  ACT’s Law & Order spokesperson, David Garrett, stated that ” international data showed privately run prisons were cheaper and delivered better outcomes“.

Labour’s Lianne Dalziel pointed out that ten out of eleven British prisons  were in the bottom 25% of all the prisons on performance measures.

In May 2010, the Green Party released a media statement that said,

Private Prisons cost more

Privatising Auckland prison is a dangerous precedent that will increase costs and compromise New Zealand’s justice system, said the Green Party today.

John Key’s Government announced yesterday the joint Mt Eden-Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) will be run privately. The corporation to run the prison will be announced by the end of the year.

“The last privatisation experiment with the ACRP increased costs by $7000 per prisoner,” said Green Party Corrections Spokesperson David Clendon…

… Evidence from the US and Australia shows that private prisons do not reduce costs for the Government. Research from New South Wales suggests prisoner safety is compromised because of the focus on profit…

… “If John Key’s Government really wants to reduce prison costs, they need to get serious about addressing the causes of crime – especially inequality which they seem to be hell bent on making worse,” said Mr Clendon.”

Scoop.co.nz

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The Green Party blogsite links to two interesting reports on privatised prisons in Australia and US. The reports make for interesting reading and seem to undermine claims by National and ACT that privately-managed prisons are cheaper options.  For example, the US Justice Office of Justice Reforms report stated, in part,

“The study resulted in some interesting conclusions. For example, it was discovered that, rather than the projected 20-percent savings, the average saving from privatization was only about 1 percent, and most of that was achieved through lower labor costs.”  Source

The Australian report “Privatisation and New South Wales Prisons: Value for Money and Neo Liberal Regulation”, makes similar points,

“For example, Cooper and Taylor (2005), in a study of prison privatisation in Scotland, identify reducing labour costs and increasing labour flexibilities as a key reason for privatisations. We contend that, in the specific case of the New South Wales ‘Value for Money Report’, the government’s support for the maintenance of ‘at least one private prison’, in the absence of meaningful cost data, was on the basis of the continuing disciplinary effects it would have upon the union, and therefore the leverage it would grant the government in extending its workplace reform agenda.”  Source

Privatisation and New South Wales Prisons

Emerging Issues on Privatised Prisons, US Department of Justice

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It seems that  warnings regarding the ideology that private-is-cheaper come home to roost, though somewhat earlier than many had anticipated,

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Full Story

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As for  Corrections deputy chief executive Christine Stevenson claiming that  “costs were high because it was New Zealand’s first PPP prison” –  one wonders where she’s been for the last ten years?!

Has Ms Stevenson no knowledge of National’s previous experiment with privately-managed prisons? The Auckland Central Remand Prison (ARCP) was under private management from 1999 to 2005,  after which  the former Labour Government did not renew the contract.

If six years of private prison management has not privided the necessary experience to prevent spending $21 million on “consultants” and “internal costs”, then what confidence is there that this exercise will not end up costing the tax-payer vast sums of money?

The NZ Herald article quotes Conservative MP Richard Bacon,

“It is clear that [PPP] has spawned an entire industry of advisers who have done extremely well out of it.”

The whole point of this exercise is that private enterprise has the necessary expertise and experience to put this project together. Thus far there appears precious little indication that private management is most cost effective or efficient than State management.

However, as Damien Cahill and Jane Andrew write (“Privatisation and New South Wales Prisons: Value for Money and Neo-liberal Regulation”),  the privatisation of prison management is not simply about cost-effectiveness per se. Instead, it is more about driving down employees wages.

Remember what Bill English let slip on 10 April of this year, on TVNZ’s Q+A, when English said the 30% difference in incomes between New Zealand and Australia is a way of competing,

“If we want to grow this economy we need capital and we’re competing for people too…  and we need to get on with competing for Australia.  So if you take an area like tourism, we are competing with Australia.  We’re trying to get Australians here instead of spending their tourist dollar in Australia.” – Bill English

It seems that not all con-artists are in prison.

Some are busily trying to sell us a “lemon”. A bloody expensive one at that.

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***Additional Info***

1. One of the references in the National Party 2008 policy document – Dom Karauria, General Manager of Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) – was an employee of  GEO Group Australia Pty Ltd – the private contractor that managed the ACRP from 2000-2005.

2. Catholic organisation Caritas …  noted that in the US the same people running private prisons were also involved in lobbying government for longer sentences.  Source

3. In a June 2009 submission to the Law and Order Select Committee , GEO Group Australia Pty Ltd  admitted that privately-managed prisons do not always deliver cheaper services;

However, comparing the quality and cost of private and publicly−managed
correctional centres is fraught with difficulties. Simple questions about which
approach delivers the best outcome cannot always be answered definitively. Such
comparisons must be based on a strict like−for−like basis and this rarely is possible,
and the performance of any correctional centre varies over time through factors both
within and outside its control.
There are correctional facilities under public−management that perform exceptionally
well, whilst others perform poorly. Whilst privately−managed correctional centres
cannot reliably be stated as always being superior or inferior to publicly−managed
correctional centres, on a number of occasions privately−managed correctional
centres have been singled out for the highest praise…”  Source

Furthermore, GEO Group Australia managing director Pieter Bezuidenhout said,

“Privatisation is not about cost savings. If that’s all you want to achieve I am saying that you are knocking at the wrong door.

“Privatisation will bring an enhanced public service…” Source

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With acknowledgement to Tumeke Blog, for highlighting this issue,

Private prison costs more than public prison

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