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Government still shooting for September privatisation

Thursday 2nd August 2012

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The government is giving the Waitangi Tribunal three weeks to produce its views on Maori claims to water rights so that the partial privatisation of state-owned electricity company MightyRiverPower can go ahead next month.

Finance and state-owned enterprise ministers Bill English and Tony Ryall have asked the tribunal to report in substance on the issues by Aug. 24, four days ahead of MRP's scheduled annual profit announcement.

That would allow ministers to make decisions "by the first week of September" on the tribunal's recommendation that the unpopular asset sales programme be halted while water claims are resolved.

A key element in the tribunal's report, issued Monday, was evidence by Treasury Deputy Secretary John Crawford that the government could live with receiving the tribunal's first report on water issues in late September, and still allow time for the sale to proceed this year.

"However, there are a limited number of windows each year in which a share offer can take place," said English and Ryall. "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 MRP offer, but also in delaying the rest of the share offer programme over the next two years."

The tribunal's recommendation for delay acknowledged it could not unduly hold up government policy unless, on the balance of convenience, there was no harm in doing so.

The ministers' statement suggests the government believes the tribunal has misjudged the balance of convenience question. BusinessDesk is also aware that the Treasury is in touch with the Waitangi Tribunal seeking correction of how it characterised Crawford's evidence, based on transcripts from the recent hearings.

English and Ryall argue the commission's interim finding this week "did not make substantive findings on any of the issues it identified."

"The government wants to consider the tribunal's recommendations and the reasons behind them as part of its decision on the MightyRiverPower share offer," they said. Accordingly, to fit with the sale timetable, the government needed the tribunal's thinking by Aug. 24.

BusinessDesk.co.nz

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