In about a month, Aucklanders living within the old boundaries of Manukau and Auckland cities and northern Papakura will get our annual dividend handout - this year, $345 - from the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust.
If history is any guide, we'll also get a letter from the five trustees, illustrated with a picture of them grinning like Cheshire Cats about to get the cream. In 2012, it was headed "Here are a few reasons to love AECT".
Why 2012? Well, like this year, 2012 was election year. And what trustee on the eve of an election battle will be able to resist a dash of blatant politicking at the voters' expense a couple of weeks before the ballot papers go out? The seat-warmers at AECT got away with it in 2012; it's hard to believe they'll abandon the winning recipe this time round.
Not when there's an annual pot of trustee fees of $342,500 to share between them, as well as a couple of directorships on the board of the trust's only asset, its 75 per cent stake in power company Vector Ltd.
So far, they're sticking to form. Last Friday, trust chairman William Cairns issued a statement declaring AECT "beneficiaries" would get a $10 increase in the annual dividend, to be paid in late September. This coincided with the closing of nominations for trustees the following Monday. Ballot papers will be posted to 318,000 beneficiaries in mid-October, just two weeks after they get their annual hand-out.
Four of the current trustees, including Mr Cairns, first elected 2009, and 20-year veteran trustee Karen Sherry, are standing. All are members of the right-wing C & R ticket. The fifth C & R trustee, former National Party MP Warren Kyd, is standing down, to make way for former National MP Paul Hutchinson.
Lined up against them is a City Vision ticket that includes former Labour Minister Judith Tizard and six independents, including former National minister Paul East.
Most recipients don't give a second thought to where the annual post-winter windfall comes from, or why. This is reflected in voting returns averaging under 20 per cent. What does get their attention is any suggestion that the gift-horse deposit its money elsewhere.
In 2012, I was roundly abused when I said the annual $100 million or so dividend from the Vector shares should go back into the community to be spent on new assets, such as a new regional park perhaps, or restoring the St James Theatre.
Since then, the road-building lobby has tried to get the AECT shares into Auckland Council hands to help support its insatiable lust for more tarmac. It's support I could do without. Yet the fact remains, the current "trust" ownership of $2.1 billion of Vector shares was cobbled together by a National Government in 1993, part of an ideological drive to abolish community-owned power boards, as had occurred to savings banks a decade before.
The aim was to privatise them, bribing the public with offers of tradeable shares to which they had no legitimate rights. Consumers in the old cities of Auckland, Manukau and north Papakura held out, voting instead to retain ownership through a trust, the AECT. For reasons I don't recall, Parliament decided that ownership would revert to community ownership, via local body control, in 2073.
Recently, Auckland Council indicated it was interested in hastening the process as part of its search for alternative sources of funding. This triggered an outburst from Act leader and Epsom MP David Seymour. "Incredibly arrogant," he called it, saying "the trust belongs to those members who have not historically sold out their ownership [in] the asset."
I couldn't resist asking him whether, as he was a 9-year-old schoolboy at the time the trust was formed, he would take the $345 hand-out, even though he had no such historic ownership rights?
To me, neither Mr Seymour nor I have any individual rights to an asset, set up by far-sighted community leaders for the betterment of the community as a whole. It shouldn't be an ATM for us - or for the trustees.