Alan Bollard has a reputation for being cool under pressure but also one of not suffering fools gladly.
He is highly experienced when it comes to dealing with top politicians — prime ministers and Cabinet ministers — and understands how to navigate the (at times) shallow shoals of politics.
But he has also played outside the policy realm and is well connected into the senior New Zealand business community.
Bollard will need all of those qualities as he takes up the helm as the inaugural chair of the high-powered New Zealand Infrastructure Commission board.
The former top public servant has been both Secretary of Treasury and Governor of the Reserve Bank and has taken on a mighty task. In essence, the commission must form a master-plan for the vital infrastructure New Zealand needs to fund and build. Not just to close the infrastructure deficit — which has grown off the back of record immigration levels in recent years. But also to scope for the future. Not the type of thinking which sees projects in isolation — rather requiring a meaningful plan to underpin future economic growth.
The commission is set up to be independent. It will have two broad functions — strategy and planning, and procurement and delivery support. It will also provide expert advice for the delivery of major infrastructure projects across the country.
It will also be a one-stop shop for investors, including publishing a pipeline of infrastructure projects.
Crucially — and this is where Bollard's impeccable CV comes in, the commission will be established as an autonomous Crown Entity with an independent board which will give it the credibility and influence required to effect real change.
Ministers will retain final decision-making rights — as is appropriate.
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But the commission will be expected to fight its corner where necessary.
For the usual detractors, let me point something out. Bollard's not an over-the-top sinecure.
He will get slightly north of $1000 a day. This is a fraction of what he could command in private consulting. His board members will get $800 a day.
But irrespective of the government rate, the commission members have an opportunity that money really can't buy — this is to shape New Zealand.
Bollard's board members — Stephen Selwood, Sarah Sinclair, Raveen Jaduram, Sue Tindal and David Cochrane — will also need nerves of steel to keep the commission's focus on what New Zealand really needs when it comes to sorting priorities for major infrastructure investment.
Rather than the current system where rival politicians play each other off in coalition negotiations to get their pet projects on a priority list, irrespective of whether they are truly feasible, a waste of dollars (public or private) or simply not of sufficient priority to bring forward to cynically cement a coalition deal — the Government has effectively out-sourced some crucial decision-making to the commission.
The commission's board members are due to be confirmed by Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones at Infrastructure New Zealand's Building Nations Symposium in Rotorua today.
Treasury deputy secretary Jon Grayson, who will address the symposium today, has been active in the run-up to this announcement. Grayson was confirmed as the commission's first CEO at a meeting of the board last week.
He is extremely well thought of within the broader infrastructure community and has made considerable efforts to meet the crucial players and influencers in the past year or so.
As we report in today's Herald Infrastructure Report (Section E) many players in the construction industry are pinning their hopes on the commission which is set to launch in October.
They hope the very launch of the commission — led by heavyweight players — will have sufficient oomph to ensure projects are not jettisoned on a change of government. This happened when Labour cancelled National's roading projects.
They want to see coherence rather than political flip-flops. They also hope that the commission's work is of such weight that it provokes a bi-partisan response.
My sense is it needs to go further.
There is little point in politicians promoting dumb projects without any fiscal underpinning.
We have seen that in the past week with John Tamihere's two-tier harbour bridge bid as part of a mayoral campaign where the taxpayer is expected to pick this up.
There also needs to be a rule change that no project promoted as a coalition agreement "must" does not get implemented without going through a robust financial cost-benefit analysis first prior to deciding where it sits on the national priority list. If Bollard's team does its job well it will ensure the current haphazard process goes.