Relationship with firms could vanish if assets partly sold, Maori tell English

The Government's water rights consultation hui is not robust or long enough, according to Ngati Maniapoto leaders.

Maniapoto Maori Trust Board chairman Tiwha Bell told Deputy Prime Minister Bill English at the Government's fourth water hui yesterday the iwi supported the consultation on the "shares plus" idea, but that it was too short and should be extended.

"The process is not robust enough for consultation to all."


Mr Bell said Maniapoto, which would speak for itself, was opposed to asset sales and the iwi was only meeting on the issue this weekend.

At the hui in Te Kuiti Mr English told a group of Maniapoto and Ngati Rangitihi members and representatives of the Raukawa Settlement Trust that the Government was obliged to remain uncompromised in its ability to recognise Maori water rights if it went ahead with plans to sell up to 49 per cent ownership in assets such as Mighty River Power.

He said the Government could offer "better tools" for Maori to have rights and redress after asset sales than the Waitangi Tribunal's suggestion of a "shares plus" model, where special classes of shares could provide Maori with a meaningful form of commercial rights recognition.

But Raukawa Settlement Trust chairwoman Vanessa Eparaima pointed out there was no compulsion for a mixed-ownership-model company, where the Crown no longer owned all the shares, to continue a long-established relationship with iwi.

Ms Eparaima said the trust's main concern was there was no protection of that relationship once asset sales went ahead, and the relationship was a way the trust could attempt to influence decision-making at the company.

"We see ourselves as partner with the Crown. Because the Crown is 100 per cent owner we see that we have some influence."

Te Mana o Ngati Rangitihi trustee Merepeka Raukawa-Tait asked what the money from the asset sales, between $5 billion and $7 billion, would be used for.

Mr English said some of it would help pay for new infrastructure in earthquake-damaged Christchurch and would mean the Government would not have to borrow to pay for it. The infrastructure included "our billion dollars of schools we've got to build" and an $800 million hospital both needed in Christchurch and the $700 million rebuilding of the country's tax system.

One iwi member told Mr English the shares plus idea was a pebble thrown in the mix that "somebody is trying to take away without putting something better in place".

Shares Plus
* Special classes of shares which could provide Maori with:

* Financial dividend every year

* Power to appoint some company directors

* Enhanced voting rights on shareholder decisions such as approving major transactions

* Voting or decision rights over the management or strategic decisions of the company including its use of water