Powershop is a subsidiary of Meridian Energy, an SOE. It is the most highly rated power retailer by its customers, with 92% satisfaction. On the Powershop website, there’s a blog. On this blog, the CEO of Powershop, Ari Sargent, wrote a post on the Government’s proposed electricity sector reforms. It’s insightful, adroit, politically neutral, and scathing of ironically titled Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee’s reforms. It is called: Proposed energy sector reforms likely to increase electricity prices.
In response, Brownlee launched into a bizarre public attack on the publicly-owned company saying Powershop should “come out from behind Meridian’s skirts. When Powershop manage to achieve a significant presence in the retail domain, they’ll be able to speak with a great deal more credibility and authority.” This, of course, coming from a former woodwork teacher with no experience in the electricity sector and a year in his job as do nothing minister and inept Leader of the House. Effectively he’s saying “shut up, you bastards and stop wrecking my PR”.
More disturbing is what went on behind the scenes and it explains why when you go to Powershop’s blog now, the contents of the post are gone. Brownlee called Wayne Boyd, Chairman of Meridian Energy, and ranted and raved at him for several minutes about the Powershop blog post before Boyd could even get a word in. Brownlee, stepping miles beyond his power as minister, insisted that the post be removed because it didn’t suit Naitonal’s political purposes for the truth to be told. In contravention of the legal checks on his power, Brownlee orderd that Sargent and Powershop be muzzled for daring to speak truth to power.
Boyd (also Chairman of Telecom) failed to stand up to his minister, probably in justified fear of his job, and called Sargent telling him (in excess of Boyd’s own power) to take down the post that had so offended Brownlee. Sargent, probably in fear of his job, complied. Although he cleverly left up the comments, so we can see him rationally, responsibly and intelligently discussing the problems with the reforms with various commenters.
Of course Brownlee is an idiot as well as a bully, and his idiocy extends to not realising that you can’t really destroy anything that has been on the internet. Wikileaks has a copy of the original blog and, now, so do you. As you can see, it is a thoughtful and measured response by an expert who is clearly concerned about reforms that are directed more at PR than ensuring the future of cheap, reliably electricity.
And that’s why it had to be suppressed, of course. That’s why Gerry Brownlee was throwing his weight around behind closed doors, exceeding his legal powers under the SOE Act by bullying a Chairman to direct the CEO of a subsidiary company regarding operational matters.
SOEs are meant to be free of such political interference. It is not acceptable for ministers to behave like this.
The shame is that this is hardly an exception, more like the rule. Brownlee is fast becoming notorious for his bullying, above the law, dictatorial attitude, as are other ministers like Paula Bennett and Judith Collins.
The Right used to talk of Helengrad and spoke darkly of politicisation of the public service, although the truth was most civil servants felt their ideas were listened and valued to under Labour. Now, we have a government that is extending its reach deep into the operational aspects of independent public bodies to make them politically correct for National’s purposes. Ministers run their portfolio agencies like personal fiefdoms, while the PM is either on holiday or hamming it up for the cameras.
Welcome, to the Bully State.