Ministers sent the Waitangi Tribunal a firm "get on with it" message yesterday afternoon.
Finance Minister Bill English and State-Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall sent the tribunal a memo to the effect that if it cannot report back by August 24 on the substantive issues relating to the sale of up to 49% of Mighty River Power, then the sale programme is off – for this year anyway.
The tribunal released its interim report on Monday and said its full report would not be released until some time in September.
Much of the 13-page interim report canvassed historical processes the tribunal has followed and summarised the submissions from the parties, but made no recommendations on the main issues.
The report ended by stating the tribunal intends to take its time.
The tribunal seems to have put a great deal of emphasis on comments from the Crown’s main witness, Treasury Secretary John Crawford, to the effect the latest period for the share float was sometime between September and December.
Mr Crawford had been asked about the timing of a final report in September and had told the tribunal that, without wanting to commit the Crown, this was roughly the sort of timing expected.
The Crown modified this towards the end of the hearings, with its lawyer saying it hoped to have the report by the end of August.
“Taking this submission along with the statements of the Treasury witness, the tribunal infers that there will either be a minimal delay to the Crown's current plans if a report is issued in September, or no delay at all," the tribunal concludes.
"We therefore conclude that the Crown ought not to commence the sale of shares in any 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.”
This means, the report said, some time in September.
That is not good enough, ministers have told the tribunal.
“As we have said, we want to act in good faith and carefully consider the tribunal’s recommendations,” the ministers said this afternoon.
“However, we appreciate the tribunal’s interim direction on July 30 did not make substantive findings on any of the issues it identified.
“So we have today asked the tribunal to provide its recommendations and reasoning by August 24.”
If the float is to go ahead this year, decisions need to be made by the first week of September.
“The tribunal expressed a view that there would be minimal or no delay to the share offer if it reported on stage one of its inquiry by the end of September,” the ministers say.
“However, there are a limited number of windows each year in which a share offer can take place.
“Delaying a decision beyond the first week of September and losing the 2012 window for the offer would have significant consequences, not only for the Mighty River Power offer, but also in delaying the rest of the share offer programme over the next two years.”