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National’s infrastructure bank

Written By: - Date published: 7:24 am, September 11th, 2020 - 21 comments
Categories: assets, Deep stuff, Economy, national, privatisation, Public Private Partnerships, transport, uncategorized - Tags:

National’s infrastructure bank proposal bugs me.

It’s yet another entity out of the hands of politicians – and that brings with it a high risk of trouble.

LIGHT RAIL

The first comparison I’m making is to NZ Superannuation. They are the people that brought in the Canadians to form NZ Infra to propose an entirely different light rail proposal for Auckland.

NZ Superannuation actively undermined NZTA’s light rail proposal for over a year. They will claim that they have the mandate to do it as they are statutorily directed to pursue local investments in local assets for the benefit of New Zealanders. But they damaged the reputation of the government and in particular that of the Minister of Transport. They also pushed around MoT and Treasury and kept going right over their heads and lobbied Ministers directly. Instead of issuing an apology to the Minister for the damage, they are going for the costs of the proposal from MoT and NZTA.

TRANSMISSION GULLY

OK there are multiple faults coming out of the woodwork on this job, and plenty of cause and effect on both sides of the public and private sector ledger. ACC has been an important investor in Transmission Gully, together with Infrared Capital Partnership, and Pacific Partnerships PTY, as part of the Wellington Gateway Partnership.

But the government review coming out of the mess in Transmission Gully will raise both operational and governance questions, guaranteed. The further out each level of commercial structure takes you from actual Ministerial political control, the faster and bigger it can get out of control.

And I’m not knocking NZ Super: I’m issuing a stern warning to future governments about setting up massive entities with control over large policy goals and who contain vast amounts of public money.

OTHER EXAMPLES

There have been a number of partnerships between the public and private sectors to finance delivery of infrastructure projects, including:

  • Auckland Harbour Bridge, completed in 1959 financed privately by user tolls
  • Lyttleton Tunnel completed in 1964, financed privately by user tolls
  • Tauranga Harbour Bridge completed in 1988 financed privately by user tolls
  • Route K Expressway in Tauranga completed in 2003 funded by Tauranga District Council as a toll road
  • A few of our jails have been Build, Operate, Transfer models

Not all Public Private Partnerships turn out badly, such as the Ara Tuhono expressway which includes in its PPP ACC, HRL Morrison (one of the Infratil family), Acciona Concesiones, Fletcher Building, and Higgins. It won’t meet its completion date, but then again honestly very few large projects do.

But sometimes similar arrangements go really, really bad. In December 2007 Kaipara District Council awarded a $53 million Design Build Finance Operate contract for delivery of wastewater services in Mangawhai. That went wrong in about every way you could think.

Distance from democratically elected accountability is a massive risk factor when it comes to keeping a big project under control. Alliancing is popular and the moment – but it doesn’t usually involve the constructor having an equity stake in the outcome, so the degree of control is still pretty high.

INFRASTRUCTURE BANK

So the first problem is National’s proposal yesterday for an infrastructure bank will have the effect of cheating the Government’s accounting system to make it look like it is reducing debt. Other entities do that already.

But the second problem is the degree of political autonomy of the bank to write deals for projects will get it right out of political accountability. Being able to scorch a Minister for poor project performance is what Ministers, not bank executives, are paid for. Ministers, not bank executives, must react to the public, form reviews, carry them out, improve, respond to actual citizens.

Whereas we have seen multiple times over the last decade, entities that have near full independence from political oversight can turn into steaming dumpster fires with very bad smells coming out of them, and they are very hard to put out precisely because of that independence. And yet the public pressure will continue to fire on the relevant Minister, and can only put out the fire with their cash – and lots of it.

SUMMARY

I’m not knocking the principle of multiple investors for large infrastructure jobs per se. The necessary interventions are getting bigger and bigger, and the money available to NZTA will continue to be constrained. Pressures from urban growth, societal needs, electricity and transport network age, climate change, and local government incapacity, are already getting well beyond the scope of our little central government to cope with.

But the more you separate public money and public policy outcomes from direct public accountability through a democratically elected Minister, the higher the risk this will blow up like a bomb in a fish factory, and the rest turns into frenzied seagulls eating the remains up. The proposed Infrastructure Bank is an accounting trick, with very high risks that the entire power of our political order for anyone affected by these monster projects will weaken citizens’ rights.

21 comments on “National’s infrastructure bank ”

  1. RosieLee 1

    Another cog in the Bankster wheel.

  2. tc 2

    Another bank….seriously ? Zero imagination and an admission that they don't want to work with what's there and will setup another trough for their mates.

    Kiwis recall what gez and the wrecking crew did to Chch, opportunity knocks again national styles.

  3. Patricia Bremner 3

    Personally I thought "This smells like a certain past PM's handiwork".. with all the ticket clipping that could go on and jobs for the boys.

    The National Party need to list who they thought could run it.

    Would it have overseas trusts?…similar to an earlier investment model? Just asking??

  4. greywarshark 4

    Doing what the government would be doing if it hadn't had its limbs amputated by a tricky Treasury and financial finaglers cohort? As many say let's have a Ministry of Works run by people who know about 'works' rather than the theory of how to run things to an arbitrary budget – which if it relates to work done by private firms, has flexible levels.

    • Ed1 4.1

      At its heart the MoW was a major civil engineering consultancy, who usually replied on private companies for a lot of the work, but were able to expand for major projects – the "Works" towns recognised that local firms could not cover the manpower requirements, or in some cases the specialised jobs. They looked long term, and built to minimise cost over the lifetime of the structure, whether that be a building or road or dam. They encouraged local businesses to be involved, so we had firms available to undertake road works were it was likely that repairs would be necessary (West coast of both Islands comes to mind), and they delivered value for money. The Kapiti Expressway was contracted to built by a consortium that was put together for the project; they had little of their own money at risk; remedial work was needed even during the term of the Key Government that commissioned the work. The state sector now has little expertise to assess tenders, negotiate engineering or technical contracts, or oversee progress and quality.

      The new Department need not be called the MoW, but one is needed. We may laugh about Brownlee being the second disaster to hit Christchurch, but we should not be relying on our politicians to have technical expertise in the first place, whether that is general insurance principles or engineering.

  5. tc 5

    greywarshark nails it, a MOW is required again. Engineering solutions taken with a long term view and not fiscally driven compromises.

    Shit happens in major civil works, govt can carry that risk with minimal fuss whereas private want's to carry nothing. If it does carry risk it'll cost more.

    Rail over roads while we still can to move us and our goods about etc. The Key regimes intransigence to road over rail mandates urgent action now in a post-covid world.

  6. Tricledrown 6

    Paying 8% for money when the govt can print bonds at 0.25% interest shows the National party wants to load NZ up with expensive debt.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      The govt can create money at 0%. Why they insist that they need to charge themselves and us interest for creating our money is a major problem.

  7. Phil 7

    Does the Green Party platform still include a 'green bank'?

  8. Draco T Bastard 8

    I’m not knocking the principle of multiple investors for large infrastructure jobs per se.

    I am as its a stupid idea for infrastructure provided by government as all it dies is allow rich people to bludge off of the rest of us for no practical benefit.

    The necessary interventions are getting bigger and bigger, and the money available to NZTA will continue to be constrained.

    The money available to the government isn't. We really have to get over the idea that the government is constrained by money.

    Pressures from urban growth, societal needs, electricity and transport network age, climate change, and local government incapacity, are already getting well beyond the scope of our little central government to cope with.

    No its not. Even with private investment all these issues will still be rectified by NZers working in NZ. The government has enough wherewithal to even bring in people from offshore to help out if necessary who would be directly employed by the government.

    The proposed Infrastructure Bank is an accounting trick, with very high risks that the entire power of our political order for anyone affected by these monster projects will weaken citizens’ rights.

    And don't forget the massive profit for the private investors that it will guarantee.

  9. Peter 9

    "And I’m not knocking NZ Super: I’m issuing a stern warning to future governments about setting up massive entities with control over large policy goals and who contain vast amounts of public money."

    Wasn't this the Dancing Cossacks theme tune, the Reds under the beds? A massive superannuation fund controlling everything?

    • Ad 9.1

      Aye true but ACC's been around for a while, and both NZSuperfund and Crown Infrastructure Holdings are agreed across Parliament.

      • Peter 9.1.1

        And we take it as implicit though that Muldoon killing of the super scheme put us in a never-to-catch up 40 years behind the eighth ball position? And that National Party genius is still National Party genius and National Party not resorting to fear tactics is the same?

  10. Phil 10

    the first problem is National’s proposal yesterday for an infrastructure bank will have the effect of cheating the Government’s accounting system to make it look like it is reducing debt. Other entities do that already.

    This is false, or at least very misleading.

    When the government accounts are reported, they are consolidated to include all SOE's and mixed-ownership companies.

    The direct analogue to the infrastructure bank is Kiwibank (i.e Kiwi Group Holdings). Its loans/assets and customer deposit liabilities are both reported as part of the consolidated government accounts. An infrastructure bank would be consolidated exactly the same way and would not give an opportunity to make it look like government debt is reducing.

    • Ed1 10.1

      PPPs have been successfully used for many years around the world now. For a government to provision for the risk of default by such a partnership would of course only make a collapse more likely, but fortunately nobody has ever identified such a risk – unless it suddenly does happen . . .

  11. Stuart Munro 11

    On current performance any funds put into a National run 'infrastructure bank' would disappear down the rabbithole to China along with the money Shipley & Yan lost Mainzeal.

    • Gabby 11.1

      I kind of assumed it was another move by Codger to suck in some Chinese money and sneak a few more assets into Chinese ownership.

      • Stuart Munro 11.1.1

        I do kind of wonder why they need a new one – didn't Key & English already make a new one and leave in the sticky fingers of ため Shipley?

  12. Dean Reynolds 12

    I'm with Draco – we re-establish the Ministry of Works for all major infrastructure development & advance them finance from the Reserve bank at 0% interest. We don't involve ACC, foreign pension funds, etc- look at the balls ups of Auckland's light rail & Transmission Gully.

    If ACC is at a loose end & wants to usefully use its reserves, then it can implement Justice Woodhouse's original vision of providing universal sickness as well as accident cover. While it's about it, it can introduce universal dental cover as well.

    Those of us on the left of the political spectrum, who still have a Social Democratic vision, need to start pushing strongly for meaningful, comprehensive reform of our whole economic/social structure.

  13. Ed1 13

    National have consistently fought against Kiwibank – they knew they would lose votes if they had sold it, so they just stopped letting it have enough capital to make a real difference. Have they explained why the existing trading and merchant banks need to have a government owned competititor?

  14. Patricia Bremner 14

    I have discussed this proposal with family with National Party affiliations. Their response…"Oh it will probably be big enough to get around laws and the conservation idiots"

    After further discussion, it turns out there is a mantra to get rid of "Red Tape", emphasis on the Red, which is perceived as "holding up progress"

    The conversation turned to real estate, and how investors are hamstrung now by endless regulations. They think farming is going the same way. " Labour loves bureaucracy".

    I pointed out it was only affecting bad Landlords and Farmers who did not do repairs and maintenance, look after the land water or animals. Landlords who made endless unjustified rental demands and threw people out of their home on a whim. The rejoinder gave me pause, "Home? It isn't their home, it is their rental. We own it."

    A real disconnect there, they are generally good landlords, but that made me realise they don't see the home aspect of renting, so I think the new laws are needed.

    Further they feel the new rules are made to penalise the few. "A sledge hammer to crack a nut", yet they had to go and put proper insulation in two of their properties.

    My query as to who would run this investment bank, they said Parliament would have to approve the appointments. I then asked what they saw as the role of the Treasurer.

    The reponse was "he (lol) would set the direction, the Infastructure Investments Bank would be under the control of their Board. " (So I guess they would pick and choose who did the work. )

    So as far as I can tell, this idea is to circumvent rules, gain control of investments in infrastructure, and distance that from the rule makers. Wow and Wow!!

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