MRP’s answers

March 10th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

What on Earth does the management at think it was doing with its blanket refusal to answer questions posed by the very parliamentary committee to which those running the power generator are supposedly accountable?

Although it might seem relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things, such obstructive behaviour must technically come close to contempt of Parliament. It was certainly an affront, if not an outright insult, to the commerce select committee and thus to Parliament as a whole.

Mighty River Power’s unwillingness to respond to nearly 100 of the 133 written questions submitted by the committee was rationalised on the flimsiest, most ridiculous but ultimately the most dishonest of grounds – a pedantic and childish interpretation of what are standard annual queries.

It is a terrible precedent, which other Crown entities will be tempted to follow.

I think John is over-stating the case here.

I do think Mighty River Power was unwise to antagonize MPs by not answer the questions supplied in writing to them, but it is worth pointing out that the Opposition MP who wrote the questions allowed them to do so by just cutting and pasting them from those used for departments without using the correct terms.

A typical question was:

Did the Department/ Ministry and its associated agencies undertake any restructuring in the last year; if so, what? How much was spent on restructuring costs and what are the estimated savings as a result of restructuring in 2012/ 13?

MRP’s response was

Not applicable to Mighty River Power as Mighty River Power is not a Department, Ministry or associated agency.

And another was:

What new services, functions or outputs did the Department/ Ministry and its associated agencies introduce in the last financial year? Describe these and estimate their cost.

And the response again was:

Not applicable to Mighty River Power as Mighty River Power is not a Department, Ministry or associated agency.

Now I agree MRP could and should have been more forthcoming and could have answered the question on restructuring costs rather than be pedantic over the term used to refer to them.

However on the latter question, the question is not one suitable for an SOE. SOEs do not have outputs. Government Departments do.

The Oppositon MP who asked these questions should have taken half an hour to customise the questions so they are appropriate for an SOE. A diligent MP would have done so.

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15 Responses to “MRP’s answers”

  1. Warren Murray (288 comments) says:

    I agree that it would have been better form to frame the Qs for an SOE, but on balance I stand with Armstrong. MRP had an opportunity to frame answers that would have been a positive backdrop to the patrial float. From a political pov, it would have been good politics too, esp in contrast to the train wreck that is Solid Energy.

    Overall, MRPs behaviour is high handed, shows contempt to the public and isnt worthy of a defence based on semantics or technicalities of how the questions were framed.

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  2. gazzmaniac (2,319 comments) says:

    Will the name of the MP be disclosed?
    I think the questions were dealt with the contempt they deserved.

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  3. Minnie (96 comments) says:

    Of course the questions aren’t about getting meaningful information, in the same way that the “inquiry” into the so-called manufacturing crisis is not about making serious inquiries . It’s about airtime for opposition MPs who otherwise don’t have a platform, to make loaded statements and demand a response. The little bully list MP from Waimakariri has practised this for the last four years.

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  4. OneTrack (2,742 comments) says:

    “A diligent MP would have done so.” – Well, there’s your problem.

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  5. Nick K (1,101 comments) says:

    There were in excess of a hundred questions. Putting in that many is simply being a knob. MRP was right to politely tell them to knaff off.

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  6. ChrisM (98 comments) says:

    The interesting thing would be whether all these questions were asked of all the Government Department, Agencies and Quangos that has previously appeared before the committee. If they were, then Clayton could have legitimate grounds for complaint, though DPF is correct that if he didn’t even bother to change the wording, it is not really worth replying. If not asked of the others, then it is just grandstanding.

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  7. Akld Commercial Lawyer (165 comments) says:

    When I read NZH yesterday it was hard to know what was more disappointing , the theatrical side show or Armstrong’s column. The pantomime is hardly a threat to democracy unless the concern is that a Select Committee process (often the real engine room of Parliament) became embroiled in petty political point scoring. It is a feature of our parliamentary process that the opposition get to question government policy. And so they should. What’s more there will be plenty of serious questions that emerge as the mixed ownership model is rolled out – with as many four floats.
    But the representatives of a soon to be floated SOE are in a non-win situation until an offer document becomes available and they can talk to it. The opposition know that – and could have chosen to delay the hearing.
    Once the offer document is available, the opposition and the country’s biggest newspaper (some might argue that they are indistinguishable) should be asking the hard questions and expecting answers. And if they don’t agree with the responses or think people are ducking for cover – then they should say so. Not the faux outrage seen in either the Select Committee room or Armstrong’s thinly-veiled political statement.
    As for Solid Energy, we would all like to know how the board appeared to take its eye off the ball when all the signals must (surely?) have been present for some time that the world market for coal was likely to go soggy. This is not the only coal miner in strife – look across the Tasman. Some hard analysis would be more informative that what the Herald has dished up. A warning, the outcome may be less salacious than those with an act to grind may wish for – big market shifts in a commodity cycle tend to affect the little players more than most. But without the hard data – we are all in dark.
    A case of more light – less heat required, particularly on important issues where (I suggest) NZH risks turning off its audience before the offer process has even begun.
    (Tongue in cheek) having heard Mediawatch this morning – perhaps Garner & Espiner could fill the void rather than wasting their combined talents on fluff pieces that demean both the audience and the presenter/s?

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  8. Warren Murray (288 comments) says:

    The usual process involves the questions being submitted well in advance, so there is plenty of time to prepare responses. The other usual practice is the questions are mostly the same year after year. So if MRP received similar questions previously, did they answer them? If the Committee (yes the questions are from the Committee, not one MP) had not asked the questions previously or hadn’t given MRP time to prepare responses, then the Coy has some grounds for responding as it did. i still think it should have taken the higher road and put some effort into answering the questions.

    Put it another way, if the Select Committee enquiries had identified Solid Energy was going off the rails, it could have shown weaknesses in the Government’s oversight of the Board.

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  9. greenjacket (429 comments) says:

    Warren,
    You are right that MPs are supposed to get their questions in to the committee well in advance. In reality, some MPs are not that efficient. Usually the clerk of committee will ‘edit’ the questions (which are sometimes not well written when submitted) – but if the questions went out with such obvious errors, then it suggests that Labour got in their questions to commitee late. If Labour MPs couldn’t be arsed to get their questions right, then MRP can hardly be expected to go the extra mile to answer badly written questions. Frankly, this issue says more about the competence of Labour MPs than it does about MRP.

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  10. peterwn (3,192 comments) says:

    What worries me here is whether MRP will treat its future small shareholders or the media (an important communication channel to small shareholders) with similar contempt. I just cannot think of any possible reason for MRP’s smart alec response., except some form of utu against Labour/ Green MP’s.

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  11. In Vino Veritas (138 comments) says:

    The questions were answered quite correctly. If MRP had been asked a properly couched question, and given an answer of the same quality as these questions, the MP in question would have had a cow. It is not MRP’s job to interpret the meaning of incorrectly worded questions, however obvious the meaning might be to them.
    There’s an old saying “ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer”. The MP who asked these questions got exactly what he\she deserved (and it goes to show the risible quality of some of the MP’s we have in Parliament at present). Armstrong is way off the mark in his criticism.

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  12. Pete George (23,149 comments) says:

    Which MP/s asked the poorly worded questions?

    The Labour MPs on the Commerce select committee are Clayton Cosgrove, Clare Curran and David Clark.

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  13. Mark (1,403 comments) says:

    One of the advantages of listing is the continuous disclosure requirements of the nzx so the crown as shareholder will get the same info as shareholders. Hopefully the directors take a proper attitude to disclosure not one of minimalist obfuscation. Also lets hope the government keeps ex mps off the Board.

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  14. Paulus (2,540 comments) says:

    I am coming to the conclusion that during the last 6 months John Armstrong is becoming slowly more senile (as perhaps are we all).
    He used to write intelligent well thought arguments but he appears to becoming more incoherent in his rants.
    Sad – he is really a good guy.

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  15. scrubone (3,074 comments) says:

    I understand that one of the questions was “what policy advice have you given to the government”. To which the answer is quite reasonably: “none, we don’t do that as an SOE”.

    The MPs also apparently spent some time in the comittee trying to get the CEO to break the law. Nice.

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