Hot Topic NBR Focus: GMO
Hot Topic NBR Focus: GMO
4 mins to read

Old watchdog shows its teeth

Thu, 29 Mar 2012

Old watchdog shows its teeth
On the Left, the foreign investment watchdog is an individual with more teeth than its government equivalent.

Murray Horton has over many years been assiduous in the task of exposing what the Left calls “transnationals” – a word that apparently carries more opprobrium than the more conventional “multinational.”

Today, “transnationals” only exist in the vocabulary of radical academics such as anti-trade activist Jane Kelsey and Geoff Bertram, who dragged it out again this week in his Dominion Post op-ed opposing the partial sale of state-owned power stations.

Mr Hooton is not an academic and loves his task of tracking these transnationals, many of which are dinkum Kiwi-run companies but have some overseas ownership, mainly through share funds.

In business circles, this is seen as positive for these companies, which include all the upper echelon of the NZX50 – Fletcher Building, Telecom, SkyCity and the like.

But for Mr Horton, these revered companies are all potential winners of his Roger Award, which is named, naturally, after Sir Roger Douglas.

Unlike Hollywood’s Razzies, where the worst films and performances are recognised, no one turns up to receive a Rogering.

Nor does Mr Horton worry about the expertise of his judges – this year they are Joce Jesson (chief judge), an education lecturer (and widow of Bruce); unionists Paul Corliss and Paul Maunder; artist Sam Mahon, and AUT media academic Wayne Hope.

This year’s nominees make rewarding reading and include the following –

• Newmont Mining returns after a couple of years. It provides most of the employment in the thriving mining town of Waihi (pop 4600);

• All Blacks sponsor Adidas, which provides millions for rugby, is a new entrant and is being Rodgered for the price of its footie jerseys (which consumers are free to pay or not);

• Oceania, the country’s largest commercial rest home provider, which has come to public attention over a pay dispute with its staff; and

• South Korean fishing company Sajo Oyang, named in the recent government report into the use of foreign labour.

And, of course, there are also the regulars – Telecom, SkyCity and NZAS, the aluminium smelter owned by Rio Tinto and up for sale because the business is not profitable enough.

On safari Down Under
After receiving his own Rodgering at the hands of Radio NZ’s Kim Hill, globalisation guru Thomas Friedman has been and gone with barely a scratch (that I’ve noticed).

(An earlier Insight item on this interview is here.)

He spoke in Wellington and Auckland, even managing to file a column, "Elephants Down Under," on his visit to the New York Times, where he is among the world’s best-paid writers.

He says he learned three things on his Down Under swing:

There is a place in the world where rugby is front-page news. There is a place in the world — the Auckland airport — where the restrooms have digital clocks in the entryway telling you hourly when they were last cleaned and when they will be cleaned again. And there is a place in the world where moderate Republicans still exist.

Friedman quotes a range of politicians and commentators, backing up his theme that America is stuffed – Friedman is rare among such visiting experts, who generally come here to present some of the their country’s good side.

Looking at America from here, makes me feel as though we have the worst of all worlds right now. The days when there were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, who nudged the two parties together, appear over.

While Friedman does says he did find “conservatives out here [who] have all the low-tax, free-market, free-trade, less-government instincts of their American colleagues,” most of his summation comes from Wellington political scientist Jon Johannson, a regular on the Q&A programme and certainly not in the conservatie camp.

Bet your bottom dollar
In the past, the Left revered dictator Robert Mugabe because he opposed apartheid in South Africa, expelled foreign investors and expropriated white farmer-owned land.

He has dropped from this status because subsequent events proved his economic sense was lacking and has turned his country into a basketcase.

However, he was persuaded to make one smart move – dump his hyper-inflated currency for the US dollar.

In an update on that 2009 move, the Wall Street Journal has found Mugabe’s wretched citizens still distrust their government's handling of money matters.

They refuse to put their dollars into the banks, possibly fearing they will suddenly be expropriated in favour some new currency, as has happened in places such as Russia and Argentina.

The uncertainty has turned Zimbabwe into a nation of hoarders, the Journal says. The grubby graying American dollars on Zimbabwe's streets – including bountiful supplies of $2 bills, last printed by the U.S. Treasury in 2006 – attest to a robust cash economy that largely bypasses the country's banks.

The result is that more money is held outside the banks than in them, resulting in a dearth of funds to lend for investment.

Moreover, the central bank hasn’t received the $US1.5 billion it lent the government and also owes $US1.1 billion to foreign lenders, mainly other central banks and development funds.

Its notorious chief executive, Gideon Gono, still holds his job despite allegations he has embezzled millions for personal use.

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Old watchdog shows its teeth