Elder retained on pay for transition

Last updated 17:41 07/03/2013
DON ELDER
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ
DON ELDER: Solid Energy's former boss.
Mark Ford
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
UNDER FIRE: Mark Ford at the Commerce select committee hearing into Solid Energy, with controversial lobbyist Mark Unsworth sitting behind.

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Former Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder is working from home, being paid the same salary he received as chief executive, to help with the company's "transition", chairman Mark Ford has revealed.

Elder quit the company on February 4 but was retained on pay for two months because his corporate memory was needed, Ford said today.

"For a transition of something this big I need access to that man."

In the final year as chief executive, Elder was paid an annual salary of $1.3 million.

The state coal miner is in talks with its banks and the Government over a bail-out package after it piled up $389m in debt.

Ford said its state was still precarious, but the board had been putting a package to bankers. He was hopeful the company could return to profitability by 2015.

He repeatedly told Parliament's commerce committee that he was unware of details about meetings with ministers, and other details before he took over as chair last year.

Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove asked that Elder appear before the committee and Ford said he had no objections but that is was inappropriate for him [Ford] to ask Elder.

Labour MPs have signalled they may use the committee's powers to subpoena him, though this is likely to be blocked by the Government's majority on the committee. National MPs on the committee today blocked a move to extend the time to examine Solid Energy's chairman and management by 30 minutes.

But Cosgrove said a summons may not be necessary if Elder was willing to attend to answer questions.

Ford told reporters later that Elder was free to speak to the media and he had placed no restrictions on that happening.
He had received his contractual entitlements when he left.

Cosgrove said Elder was on gardening leave. "$1.3 million is a very expensive garden."

He said if Ford needed Elder's "institutional memory", the committee today needed his memory too to answer questions about how the company got into such trouble.

Ford blamed "the market", particularly the fall in coal prices, for the woes of the company which Cosgrove called "a basket case".

Labour is also seeking a parliamentary inquiry into Solid Energy.

Ford revealed that Wellington lobbyist Mark Unsworth had been hired to advise on "committee protocol" for today's appearance.

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