Asset-sales costs reach $26m mark

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 17/02/2013

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The cost of the Government's state asset sales programme has hit $26 million and is running at $1 million a month, as opponents come within touching distance of forcing a referendum.

New figures released by the Treasury show it has spent more than $16m in preparations for asset sales, while the state-owned enterprises set to be sold have spent another $8.4m between them.

The Green Party said once the cost of the fighting a legal challenge over water rights, and a $500,000 bonus due to Mighty River Power's chief executive for executing the sale, the total is more than $26m.

More than $100m has been budgeted for the entire sales process, which aims to raise up to $7 billion by selling up to 49 per cent of Mighty River, Meridian, Genesis Energy and possibly mining company Solid Energy.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman said the spending came in the face of obvious public opposition.

"This is an extravagant waste of taxpayer funds from a government whose constant refrain is that there is not enough money to pay for desperately needed policies."

Norman said there were a number of costs of the sale which had not been accounted for, including the hinted share bonus scheme, which would escalate costs.

The Government has promised that Kiwis will be "at the front of the queue" to buy shares, but has not explained what that statement means.

Opponents to the sales, including the Greens, the Labour Party and Grey Power, hope this weekend's "signathon" will push the number of signatures calling for a referendum on asset sales to reach the 400,000 target. While the legal minimum is 309,000, organisers have decided to continue until they secure at least 25 per cent more, because of the risk of people signing more than once, and the scrutiny it will be under.

Norman said that, assuming the target was reached this weekend, it could take until the end of the month for the forms to be collected, before submitting them to the Clerk of the House for scrutiny. However, time was of the essence, with the Government planning two sales this year.

"We're in a bit of a race with the Government in a way. The last thing they want to do is face the voters on this issue, because they know how unpopular they are."

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