Government huddles as tribunal urges asset sales delay
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BUSINESSDESK: Government ministers will take several days to respond to a Waitangi Tribunal report that could push its partial privatisation programme past Christmas.
The tribunal issued an interim direction today, saying the government should wait for its stage one report on Maori claims to rights and interests in water and geothermal assets, due in September.
It acknowledges it should not delay major government policy initiatives unduly, but that the imminence of its report may mean "the Crown's proposed share float may not be delayed at all (or might only be subject to a minimal delay)," its 13-page judgment says.
"The inconvenience to the Crown of a prolonged delay to the proposed share sales would clearly exist," said the tribunal, which characterised the New Zealand Maori Council's application to the tribunal as having similar impact to an interim injunction granted by a court.
However, there was a serious issue of substance raised by the council claim.
The judgment draws on evidence from the deputy secretary to the Treasury, John Crawford, acknowledging it was expecting publication of the first of its two reports on water claims by around September and that it could not delay the share sale beyond the first week of December, if it was to happen this year.
The government is proposing to sell 49% of the electricity generator and retailer Mighty River Power and has wanted that to occur in the third quarter of this year, market conditions permitting.
State-Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall said the government is examining the tribunal's direction and would seek meetings with its coalition partner, the Maori Party, "as we develop our respective positions".
"In the meantime, Ministers are not in a position to comment," he said.
The tribunal's ultimate conclusion was that "the Crown ought not to commence the sale of shares in many of the Mixed Ownership Model companies until we have had the opportunity to complete our report on stage one of this inquiry and the Crown has had the opportunity to give this report, and any recommendations it contains, in-depth and considered examination".