Solid Energy fends off flak over Elder

Don Elder has been accused of taking his eye off the ball. File photo / Ross Setford
Don Elder has been accused of taking his eye off the ball. File photo / Ross Setford

Solid Energy continues to fend off questions over the future of its chief executive, who has been accused by a West Coast leader of taking his eye off the ball.

The company - which has announced it plans to lay off 440 staff around the country - has been accused by Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn of failing to concentrate on its core business under the leadership of chief executive Don Elder.

"The board has got to look very hard at Don Elder, everyone has to be accountable," Kokshoorn said.

State-owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall has said the Government will monitor the board's performance and new members could be added during the next few years.

Recently appointed chairman Mark Ford has "Mr Fixit" credentials but said on Monday that Elder's future had not been discussed.

"Don is doing a vital role at the moment."

A spokeswoman said yesterday that the company had nothing to add on the matter.

Elder is paid $1.4 million a year and Kokshoorn said he had no problem with a high salary for chief executives but only if they performed.

"If you're a miner about to lose your job you'd be pretty bitter.

"The average miner gets $90,000 so that's a lot of coal to get to $1.4 million."

Solid Energy had embarked on biofuel and pellet projects that had been costly rather than concentrating on coal, Kokshoorn said.

The Christchurch head office had grown rapidly and there seemed to be big spending on the Coast.

"It was out of control," Kokshoorn said.

"Our view on Don is that he took his eye off the ball in the last couple of years."

Kokshoorn said there was anger at the company's cash reserves given it had enjoyed high prices for coal for the past three years.

Solid Energy says it had $4 million in cash and debt facilities of $220 million at the end of June.

Mothballing Spring Creek mine will cost 222 jobs plus a further 130 contractors.

- NZ Herald

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