Mighty River: Key leaves door open to Maori shares
Prime Minister John Key was evasive when asked today about catering to iwi interests in the partial privatisation of Mighty River Power.
Asked, "Will you rule out putting shares aside for Maori?" Mr Key replied:
"I’m not going to go through every individual sort of detail now. I mean a) I haven’t been fully briefed yet from my people. Secondly, I don’t think that really makes sense to cherry pick bits and pieces.
"Let’s just wait until next week. We’ll have a full and considered response then."
A "set of recommendations" would be announced publicly "almost certainly next Monday," said Mr Key, appearing on TV3's Firstline.
On Friday, the Waitangi Tribunal said Maori do have rights and interests in water, and recommended the government's privatisation programmed be halted until it could amend power companies' constitutions to reflect those rights and interests.
The prime minister has previously said his government could ignore a tribunal recommendation.
This morning he softened his language.
"The process here is that our lawyers and officials are going to go away and pour through that Waitangi Tribunal report," Mr Key said.
"In the report the Waitangi Tribunal has indicated there is a very narrow area where there could be a breach.
"But that’s something that our lawyers and those that advise me will want to have a look through and just test that, and test what should or might or could happen.
"So we’ll in good faith think about all the different issues that the Waitangi Tribunal’s putting up, and we’ll think about the government’s overall objectives and the work we’ve been doing in the last four years."
Yesterday, Mr Key and senior ministers met with Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples and MP Te Ururoa Flavell.
After the meeting, Mr Sharples said he had heard no indication the sale would be delayed. The Maori Party co-leader is pushing an "SOE-plus" model that would see a Maori role in power company governance.
Timetable under threat
The government has said it wants to float Mighty River Power this month. The SOE is due to deliver its full-year result today [UPDATE: the company reported flat earnings.]
Yesterday, Mr Key emphasised the government wants to see its asset sales programme kick off before Christmas.
However, the Prime Minister also said there are only two timeslots annually in which the partial privatisations can occur: March/April, and around September/October, owing to the timing of the companies' profit announcements and the need to hold a large public share float outside of traditional holiday periods.
If the government does set aside shares for Maori, it would be the second market distortion in the sale.
Large institutional investors, who could drive the highest price, are already second in line by dint of a government promise that any "mum and dad" local investor will be guaranteed at least $2000 in shares.