Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Elder agrees to face grilling

Don Elder.  Photo / APN
Don Elder. Photo / APN

Former Solid Energy boss Don Elder has confirmed he will go to Parliament to answer questions about the company's problems.

But in a strongly worded statement, Dr Elder also lashed out at the stricken state-owned coal miner, saying it was always his intention to appear before MPs but he was prevented from doing so by the company itself.

Dr Elder resigned as chief executive early last month just two weeks before the company revealed it was in talks with the Government and its banks over a crippling $389 million debt burden.

His absence when the company underwent its financial review before Parliament's commerce committee last week fuelled controversy over his management of the firm and led to Opposition calls for him to front.

Last night, he said he had "always been willing to answer any question members of the committee may have about Solid Energy and my time as its chief executive".

"I made myself available to assist the Solid Energy team at last week's sitting of the committee, but was advised that I was not required to be present", he said in the statement.

"I have never refused to co-operate. I will endeavour to help the committee in any way I can, subject to the lifting of obligations imposed on me by Solid Energy."

The committee had previously asked that Dr Elder attend last week's financial review if Solid Energy thought it "appropriate", but he did not appear.

At that review, it emerged that Dr Elder was still on the payroll and chairman Mark Ford said he would have no problem if he appeared.

Solid Energy last night confirmed it would place no constraint on Dr Elder appearing but it could not compel him do so.

Labour's state-owned enterprises spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, who claims the Government was "asleep at the wheel" while Solid Energy made a series of poor investment decisions, has led calls for Dr Elder to appear. He is also calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the company's problems.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the company said reports that Dr Elder was still receiving a $1.3 million salary were incorrect. She said his $850,000 base salary before performance-based incentives was more likely to reflect his current pay rate.

In response to Mr Cosgrove's calls for a parliamentary inquiry, committee chairman Jonathan Young said he wanted to hear what Dr Elder said at the hearing, which will take place on Thursday. Dr Elder is scheduled to appear for 45 minutes but Mr Cosgrove and other Opposition MPs are likely to call for that time to be extended.

Prime Minister John Key, who has said Solid Energy's problems began under the previous Labour Government, said last week he was "relaxed" about Dr Elder appearing.

SOE Minister Tony Ryall, whose oversight of the company has been questioned by the Opposition, said he didn't care "either way" whether Dr Elder appeared.

Former Solid Energy chairman John Palmer says he will appear at the commerce select committee on Thursday alongside Elder if the committee wants him.

Mr Palmer, who is the current chairman of Air New Zealand, told Radio New Zealand this morning he had conveyed that to State-owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall.

Statement from Don Elder, former Chief Executive of Solid Energy:

"It is my intention to appear before Parliament's Commerce Select Committee on Thursday 14 March 2013, pending approval from my employer.

"I have always been willing to answer any questions Members of the Committee may have about Solid Energy and my time as its Chief Executive. I made myself available to assist the Solid Energy team at last week's sitting of the Committee, but was advised that I was not required to be present. I have never refused to cooperate.

"I will endeavour to help the Committee in any way I can, subject to the lifting of obligations imposed on me by Solid Energy.

"I will be making no further public statements until the Committee hearing."

- NZ Herald

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