Evidence of what I regard as one of the country's most dodgy pieces of electoral behaviour landed in Auckland isthmus and Manukau letterboxes this week.
The people behind this breathtaking cynicism were the five incumbents on what's called the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust. [...] It owns $2 billion Vector power company shares. The trustees stand for election every three years. Their only job is to pay out Vector's dividends.
The incumbent trustees are all up for re-election. And they have rigged the game. Two weeks before ballot papers were sent out they posted a cheque for $320 to every household where a voter lives.
McCarten goes on to explain the troughing trustees have nothing to do really apart from setting the dividend disbursement to the beneficiaries. For this minimal task they are remunerated to the eyeballs and two of them have another chance at going to the trough upon becoming Vector directors. The main point here though is the opportunistic timing and that the trustees have changed things in order to do so:
Trust chairman William Cairns explained the problem was caused by the trust deed, which required trustees to pay shareholders inside a specific timeframe.
He said it would take a court decision to change the deed.
"To change the trust deed is a lot of expense."
It has now emerged the trust went to the High Court at Auckland in 2010 and won the right to pay the dividend at any stage of the financial year.
The rule change meant it could have been paid after the election this month. It was paid on September 26, and voting papers were mailed on October 10.
So, the payout is made just a fortnight before the election starts... and the consumers are supposed to swallow the story that it's an unrelated coincidence!? That it is "just technical" !? It is totally shameless.
Returning officer Dale Ofsoske said he had previously raised concerns with the trust about the proximity of the dividend to the election.
"It does come uncomfortably close."
The Herald asked Mr Cairns how he appeared to have confused the timing issue.
"This is a technical issue," he said.
Independent candidate Doug Armstrong said the judge who made the change had not considered the effect of the change on the election.
Mr Armstrong said it gave "sitting trustees total flexibility to time the dividend to suit themselves".
"They're playing Santa Claus with the voters, and no one is going to vote against Santa Claus."
David Shand, a candidate for the Your Power Team, said it was cynical of the trustees to make the dividend payment just before voting papers were sent out - and then use trust money to pay for an advertising campaign about the dividend in which they featured.
Putting the gross cynicism of the C&R ticket to one side, people may wonder what the point of playing politics with trustee positions is if they aren't really capable of doing anything anyway. Does it matter what political stripe they are? Won't the overall result that matters to consumers, inter alia the dividend payout, still be the same? The answer is probably yes, but with the way it is being run at the moment why would you want to encourage that behaviour? Check out 'Your Power Team' (the Labour/Green ticket) candidate profiles here for the alternative.
Voting closes 24 October. Only 16% voted last time so those who do post their ballots can be sure their vote will count.
Also I will note here that my perennial gripe - the (lack of an) undergrounding scheme - still grinds on at an impossibly slow pace.
The Council doesn't want to have anything to do with it and refuses to resource the necessary co-operation between utilities and agencies to make it happen. Naturally enough the lines company (and Telecom/Chorus) don't want to have anything to do with it either because it will cost them: firstly, up front in cash and secondly, they may have to sacrifice their monopoly local distribution that exists with only two users being allowed on the overhead lines should a competitive, multi-use conduit be introduced.
The missed opportunities to align the Council's footpath concreting with undergrounding is tantamount to economic and aesthetic sabotage. When they concrete and don't underground they are condemning the street to the 50-60 year life span of the concrete (before it can be efficiently undertaken). So we have a miserable $10m a year (now $13m) allocated in the AECT-Vector agreement to undergrounding. How long will it take at this rate to underground all of suburban Auckland's overhead lines? 50 years? 100 years? 200 years? This is what happens when no-one cares and no-one takes responsibility.