A second repost (with thanks) from I/S at No Right Turn. This time on SOEs.
Fifteen years ago, Nicky Hager exposed how state-owned enterprise Timberlands West Coast was spending millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money to fund political operations against its owners, the people of New Zealand. The core problem? An SOE that behaved as if it was a private company, with no democratic responsibilities. Fifteen years on, it looks like Solid Energy had a serious case of the same disease.
In retrospect, the spying on protestors should have been a warning sign. But its only since the company’s collapse that we’ve seen how deep the rot went: a refusal to accept Treasury oversight, and now news that they spent $48,000 hiring lobbyists Saunders-Unsworth to advise them on how to bullshit Parliament:
High-profile lobbyists were called in to help Solid Energy bosses dodge questions from media and opposition MPs about the coal miner’s financial woes, and the advice was also shared with Treasury and ministers.
The company’s $389 million debt was revealed earlier this year, and its bosses sought advice from government relations and lobbying firm Saunders Unsworth before fronting up to a parliamentary select committee in March.
Newly appointed chairman Mark Ford told the committee he was unable to answer questions on the state-owned company’s fall from financial success, saying he had not been there at the time.
However, Labour has obtained documents showing Saunders Unsworth advised Solid Energy’s bosses to keep responses to MPs’ questions as short as possible.
“The longer you talk, the more likely it will be that you trigger a range of questions that will not be pleasant,” the advice said.
As with Timberlands, this displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between an SOE, Parliament, and the people of New Zealand. These people are supposed to work for us. And that means being monitored by Treasury and fully and frankly answering any questions Parliament asks. Failing to do so isn’t just a contempt of Parliament; its an attack on the entire idea that government entities are accountable to Parliament, and through it, to us.
Sadly, Ministers appear to have colluded in this. That’s disturbing too. Ministers are supposed to be the first layer of oversight on SOE’s, not enablers of their anti-democratic behaviour. By approving Solid Energy’s behaviour, Tony Ryall and Bill English have failed in their fiduciary duty to Parliament to represent our ownership interest of these companies. And that’s just not acceptable.