Ministers dodged meeting with MRP chair Withers over share buyback

Withers sought "urgent teleconference" with shareholding ministers English and Ryall.

MightyRiverPower's shareholding ministers Bill English and Tony Ryall dodged a phone conference with chairwoman Joan Withers in the lead-up to the power company announcing its share buyback after Treasury officials warned they needed to know what was going to be discussed.

Documents published by the Treasury's Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit show Withers sought an "urgent teleconference" with the ministers on Oct. 9 to discuss an unspecified market-related issue, a day before the power company announced its intention to buy back as many as 25 million shares on-market.

Treasury analyst Juston Anderson sent a heads-up to the ministers' offices, saying MRP had told the department it was considering the buyback and asking whether it should consult the Crown before making a decision.

"Our advice is that ministers should not discuss a buyback proposal with Ms Withers," Anderson said in an email. "We suggest that ministers avoid having any urgent discussions with Ms Withers, unless she advises in advance what the subject will be, and until ministers have the opportunity to seek legal advice on that subject, if necessary."

Two days later a Treasury report said the government could have sold about 955,000 shares, but recommended against the government participating in the buyback, which would be consistent with its decision not to take part in Air New Zealand's share buyback.

The report said ministers may want to tell Withers about their decision, but recommended against issuing a media release announcing its position.

The shares rose 0.9 percent to $2.23 in trading today, having slid from the $2.50 IPO price in May.


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