Those of us living within the old boundaries of Auckland and Manukau cities and northern Papakura have just received our annual $320 dividend handout from Vector. In the envelope was back-patting brochure from the trustees of the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust, complete with a cheesy vote-for-me photo of the five trustees, above the headline "Here are a few reasons to love AECT."
A vulgar and blatant piece of self-promotion at our expense, even they would have to admit, when ballot papers are due to be posted out for their jobs in 10 days' time.
Frankly, this is one of the most pointless election contests going.
From recent turnouts, most beneficiaries agree. In the 2009 poll, just 16.47 per cent of eligible voters bothered to put pen to paper and pop the return freepost envelope into the mail. The 19.28 per cent turnout in 2006 was only marginally better, and that was after the trustees had controversially sold off 24.9 per cent of its sole asset, the Vector lines company, surrendering its previous 100 per cent ownership.
Just what the trustees do, except claim credit for the $320 dividend they pass on to us from Vector, is something of a mystery. To me, what we need is a kamikaze ticket of candidates, promising to go in and vote themselves out of existence and hand the shares over to Auckland Council to administer. It's programmed to happen in 2073 anyway, so why dally.
With this transfer of control should also come an end to the $320 dividend. Instead the handout - this year totalling a handsome $99.84 million - should be returned to the community of Auckland as a whole, rather than just to those of us lucky enough to be living within the historic bounds of the old Auckland Electric Power Board.
For the confused, a little history. In 1993, the National Government ordered the closure of the venerable community-owned Auckland Electric Power Board along with similar businesses nationwide. It was similar to the forced closure of community savings banks a decade before.
Consumers were offered various alternative ownership models. On the North Shore and West Auckland, they grabbed the bribe of a few hundred shares apiece for free. The rest of us went for trust control and an annual dividend, lasting until 2073, when ownership and dividend was to transfer to the local councils.
Weirdly, if you shift out of area covered by the trust, you instantly lose this property right. Similarly, anyone moving into the area automatically becomes eligible for the annual handout.
In a recent release from the left-leaning "Your Power Team," ticket of candidates, it says the incumbent rightist trustees "will try to persuade voters that the dividend is due to their good management".
They mock the claims saying "In reality it is due to the good management of Vector. Trust members have added little value except to pocket large trustee fees and waste money on consultants. Over the past three years the Citizens and Ratepayer trustees have paid themselves over $1 million in fees."
"Your Power Team" promises to reduce the $1.5 million spent annually on directors and consultants if elected. My question to them is that if, as they say, trustees add little value to the proceedings, why not take the extra step and do away with them full stop?
I've hardly been the greatest fan of the Auckland Council's control over the port company but at least it hasn't sold a quarter of the company off to private owners as the trustees of Vector did.
As for asking 312,000 households to forgo our annual $320 handout, maybe it's worth remembering the random nature of this windfall. It was a bribe from a government intent on buying support for privatising community-owned power assets. Twenty years on, many of those now receiving it have no right to the handout anyway. They were not customers at the time of "privatisation".
As one of those who was, I would be willing to forgo the annual handout, if I knew that, under council ownership, it would be used for the benefit of the community as a whole.
I can't recall why the legislation chose the year 2073 to restore ownership to the community. But why wait? But with one proviso: that this windfall not be frittered away on footpaths and drains and the like. Use it for special landmark projects. A park on the Tank Farm. That grand building on Queens Wharf.By Brian Rudman Email Brian