In a raucous public meeting in Timaru last night, John Key said “The entire time I’ve been Prime Minister I’ve had Treasury in my office week after week, month after month telling me South Canterbury Finance was going bankrupt”. So, why did National sign SCF into the scheme and renew its deed three times?
On November 19th 2008, Key and his ministers were sworn in. That very day, Treasury Head John Whitehead signed the deed admitting SCF into the retail deposit guarantee scheme “on behalf of the Minister of Finance” Bill English.
The deed was renewed on December 11th 2009, again signed by a senior Treasury official on behalf of English. It was updated on April 1st 2010, once more signed by the same senior Treaury official on behalf of English. And then amended on June 17th, again signed off by the senior Treaury official in English’s name.
The mere fact that there were so many reviews of the deed shows that Treasury knew things weren’t right. And Key’s acknowledgement that he and English were being repeatedly told “week after week” about SCF’s problems raises the question of why they kept on having their officials sign new deeds keeping SCF in the scheme.
Remember, the upshot of SCF being kept in the retail deposit scheme through all these reviews and updates was a bailout that put an average of $50,000 into the hands of the depositers, paid other debtors $300 million – all funded by us as taxpayers at a cost of $1.8 billion. We’re now lumbered as effective owners of a finance company that is only worth a fraction of what we paid because of the choices Key and English made.
For me, Key’s entire attitude to this affair and governing in general is summed up when, in the RadioNZ clip, he calls $100 million “chump change”.