Two Northland-based former Cabinet ministers invited by the Government to serve on a water trust have sought independent advice from a remuneration specialist on what they and other trustees should be paid.

Neither the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), which invited them to serve on the Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust, nor Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones know what their contract looks like or what they will earn.

Former National Party Minister Murray McCully chairs the trust and former Labour Party Minister Dover Samuels and two others are its trustees. More trustees will be appointed in the coming days.

MBIE's Provincial Development Unit did not answer specific questions as to why the position of trust chair and trustees were not advertised, what was the selection criteria, and how much the trustees would be paid.

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Instead, a spokeswoman for the unit explained why the trust was set up for and its expectations.

On remuneration, she said: "The trustees as an independent body can seek on what comparable trusts pay trustees."

The trust has been given nearly $70 million from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) to build water storage facilities for commercial use and sign up two water companies to undertake a commercial shareholding arrangement with territorial authorities in the Far North and Kaipara districts. Of that, $9m is a grant and the rest a loan.

Councils may be part of the commercial agreement and buy water from the storage facilities but the principal buyers will be big orchards such as avocado and kiwifruit growers.

Persistent dry conditions plaguing Northland - six droughts since 2009 - have prompted the Government to plan for water security in the region by building more dams and other storage facilities using money from the PGF.

The former ministers were trustees on the Northland Water Steering and Advisory Group under the Northland Regional Council (NRC) before MBIE decided to have a single-purpose body do the work rather than a regulator.

"We are getting advice from a remuneration specialist on what we should be paid. They're having a look at what comparable water companies or water trusts pay people and that will be in the public arena," McCully said.

"I don't think anyone of us is doing this for the money. This is a really challenging task, we are happy to be judged on our record but it's got a lot of moving parts," he said.

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"It's very complicated and having background in central government certainly is one of the skills that works and in Dover's case, having the ability to negotiate iwi relationships is absolutely critical."

Asked if their positions were advertised, McCully said: "I have no idea. When I was asked to join the steering group a year ago, I don't know what process they went through. NRC had applied for funding to make this work and the Crown wanted two representatives on the steering group.

"We were invited to set up the trust. They [MBIE] have the experience of funding other irrigation schemes, they have used trust vehicles to do that, and that was the vehicle they decided here.

"I understand that, because we've been involved in central government and public policy process, it was thought that we'd understand how to move this thing forward and that was the instruction we've had from the government.

"If they were completely unsatisfied with our performance on the steering group, I don't think they would have invited us to serve as the foundation trustees."

Former Cabinet Minister Murray McCully chairs the Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust with Dover Samuels and two others as trustees. Photo / Imran Ali
Former Cabinet Minister Murray McCully chairs the Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust with Dover Samuels and two others as trustees. Photo / Imran Ali

Jones said with both men's experience in central government processes and Samuel's of Māoridom as well, their names came up very early to build on the momentum created after the work they did in the advisory group.

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He said Samuels had also been part of Attorney General David Parker's Māori Water Working Committee.

"There's a premium associated with continuity. MBIE will decide what they will get paid. This is not a position where people expect to grow rich.

"They have been involved right from the inception of the steering group and were invited by MBIE officials. I have no idea what their contract looks like or what they will be paid. We are dealing with a genuine water crisis in Northland, which desperately needs their background and experience.

"The most important thing right now is to dig holes, find water, and create wealth," Jones said.

As part of the Crown's nominee on the previous steering group, McCully and Samuels were paid in line with MBIE guidelines, which was $150 an hour for scheduled meetings, travel and preparation time.

The scheduled meetings were capped at a maximum of 12 hours per scheduled meeting.

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Vehicle mileage and out of pocket allowance could also be claimed.

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