Voters deciding who will handle their shares in a $2 billion electricity asset were paid $320 by sitting trustees just weeks before they sent out ballot papers seeking re-election.
The payment notice went out two weeks ago with the line: "The power is in your hands." It carried the names of the five candidates standing for re-election to the board.
The fortnight which followed saw an advertising campaign telling the 330,000 Auckland-based shareholders: "There are 320 reasons to smile this week."
The advertising campaign was part of the $1 million spent on distributing the dividend since September 26.
It was followed yesterday with voting papers.
Present trust chairman William Cairns said the timing was not the fault of the trustees and instead relied on receiving money from Vector.
"All we can do is, through our channels, to ask Vector to pay the dividend a little bit earlier."
Once the money had been received, he said the deed which established the trust forced the payment to be made in a specific time frame.
He also rejected claims from opponents that payments to trustees were too high. "You've got to have competent people."
Trustee Warren Kyd, a former MP of 15 years, said the payment had always been made close to the election. "If the boot was on the other foot we might feel aggrieved."
The five incumbent trustees are all standing on a Communities and Residents ticket. They are opposed by five linked to the Green Party and Labour under the banner Your Power Team.
Accountant and management consultant David Shand said the trust had become a "gravy train". He said the dividend should not be paid right before the election and questioned the large advertising campaign which went with it.
Mr Shand spoke at the launch of the campaign yesterday - the 24 people gathered were a reflection of the low voter turnout. Last election just 16 per cent of shareholders voted.
"The self-promotional advertising campaign that came out at your expense to promote the current trustees - this is a gross misuse of public money and we will put an end to it." He said trustee fees would be cut by 40 per cent and the trust opened up with the Official Information Act "making the organisation properly accountable to members of the public".
AUT's public policy institute director David Wilson said the connection between the dividend and voting was "questionable, at least".By David Fisher @@DFisherJourno Email David