By Russel Norman
The absurdity of the Government’s asset sales agenda hit home this week when it became clear major issues around flogging off the power companies are unresolved.
This week the Waitangi Tribunal began hearing an urgent claim led by the Māori Council on water rights, arising out of the fact the Government is about to sell power companies that use water to generate electricity.
Prime Minister John Key raised hackles when he said he could ignore the tribunal’s decision and that put pressure on the Māori Party’s support of the Government.
The tribunal needs to be able to do its work without being undermined by the Government which should negotiate in good faith with Māori and not ride roughshod over process.
The hearing has highlighted the many problems with the planned sales. The water rights issue makes the sale a risky venture for investors and will push down the sale price.
The sale process should be stopped until those issues at least are resolved. However, even without that major consideration, the sales don’t make sense.
Berl economist Ganesh Nana, who was commissioned by the Green Party to study the sales said they would leave “the Government accounts permanently worse off in terms of Government debt, debt ratio, net worth, and total assets" and result in "a permanent deterioration in the external deficit and the level of external".
It doesn’t make sense to sell such valuable assets and it defies logic to do so when unresolved water rights mean the Government would get bargain basement prices.
The whole sale process has been a dog’s breakfast from the get go. If the Prime Minister is hell-bent on pursuing the sales he should at least have made sure he did his homework to ensure they are sold for the best possible price. This water rights issue should not have come as a last minute surprise.
The Government also has to deal with the petition to hold a citizens initiated referendum opposing asset sales.
A petition to have such a referendum is getting great support and the Green Party alone has collected over 80,000 signatures, nearly a third of all the signatures needed to make it happen.
The referendum will be held within a year from when the required signatures are obtained, possibly as early as this summer.
The Government should hold fire and hear what the people of New Zealand think.
Dr. Russel Norman is Co-Leader of the Green Party.