The Herald editorial:
The Green Party has called the Government’s bail-out of Solid Energy “privatisation by stealth”. Would that it were so. The state coal company will cost the taxpayer $155 million under the terms of the bail-out. It would have been more if the banks holding most of the company’s $380 million debt had not agreed to exchange just $75 million of it for shares in the company.
The banks could have insisted on repayment of all the debt, liquidating Solid Energy and costing 1,000 jobs.
But State-owned Enterprise Minister Tony Ryall is saying little to suggest there is any prospect of Solid Energy going back on to the partial privatisation programme with the power generators and Air New Zealand. More is the pity. The rise and fall of Solid Energy is a textbook example of the pitfalls of public ownership.
There is a case for the Government to own some monopolies like Transpower. There is no case (in my mind) for the Government to own a coal company.
Labour’s state-owned enterprise spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, never tires of the phrase “asleep at the wheel” when blaming ministers for the company’s ambitious investments. But Treasury records show that in 2010, when coal was still booming on China’s continuing steel production and the board of Solid Energy was making big plans to diversify, the Government was cautious.
Indeed. The Government turned down the funding for the big plans. I suspect Labour would have handed over a billion dollars and renamed Solid Energy KiwiCoal.
If world prices pick up and the company can entertain wider ambitions again, it should be sold to the biggest bid. There is no reason for coal to be a state concern and every good reason to relieve the taxpayer of further risk.
We should sell TVNZ also, while someone will still pay money for it.