Call for MPs to keep check on SOEs

ROELAND VAN DEN BERGH
Last updated 05:00 19/07/2012

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Air New Zealand chairman John Palmer says politicians may need to be allowed to retain the ability to quiz partly privatised state-owned companies.

Palmer and senior Air New Zealand management, including chief executive Rob Fyfe, appeared before the finance and expenditure select committee yesterday, the first time in four years.

Air New Zealand is 74 per cent taxpayer-owned after receiving a $1 billion bailout package in 2001 following the collapse of subsidiary Ansett Australia. However, as a listed company, it is not a state-owned enterprise.

Under the mixed ownership model, partly privatised state-owned enterprises, such as power companies, will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny or the Official Information Act.

Instead, they will fall under the public disclosure requirements of the stock exchange.

Palmer said the commercial scrutiny of listed companies by market analysts was much greater than in any public forum.

Palmer, who is also chairman of state-owned Solid Energy, said the number of requests the coalminer received under the Official Information Act was “a very serious drain on management time, management effort and management costs”.

“We have got to have a balance between where is the most effective form of disclosure.”

However, Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove said the select committee could ask questions of former state companies on behalf of taxpayers that went beyond what investors would get from other forms of disclosure, such as annual reports.

Palmer said if the Crown was going to be a long term majority owner of privatised state companies then a separate forum to answer political questions may be needed.

“But they are not the same commercial questions that relate to the performance"of the companies.

He said he was a “strong advocate” of the mixed ownership model because, in the case of Air New Zealand, the airline had responsibilities to its shareholders, but also a national responsibility as the country's flag carrier.

Having the Crown as a committed cornerstone shareholder also meant management were not constantly looking over their shoulder “to see who might take you over tomorrow”.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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