Coun­cil re­fuses to re­lease key re­port on Alpine shares

The Timaru Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

com­pany about the pro­posal to sell shares in Alpine En­ergy.

The coun­cil yes­ter­day re­sponded ver­bally that it would not re­lease a re­port which it com­mis­sioned to value the shares be­fore put­ting out its sale pro­posal to the pub­lic. De­spite re­peated re­quests to the coun­cil from 9am yes­ter­day, the coun­cil did not is­sue a state­ment con­firm­ing the re­fusal un­til 4.30pm.

The coun­cil cited grounds of com­mer­cial sen­si­tiv­ity, namely it is ‘‘likely to un­rea­son­ably prej­u­dice the com­mer­cial po­si­tion of the per­son who sup­plied the in­for­ma­tion’’.

‘‘In de­cid­ing to do this [not re­lease] we have care­fully as­sessed the con­sid­er­a­tions for with­hold­ing the in­for­ma­tion, in this case, are not out­weighed by the pub­lic in­ter­est in mak­ing the in­for­ma­tion avail­able’’.

Ran­gi­tata MP An­drew Fal­loon de­scribed the re­fusal as ‘‘stag­ger­ing".

‘‘The coun­cil’s pro­mo­tion of the sale has been all about how the div­i­dend to TDHL of $4.7m is low for the level of in­vest­ment,’’ Fal­loon said.

‘‘A key part of that equa­tion is the $110m val­u­a­tion. I’m a bit stunned TDHL won’t re­lease any of the work on how that price was reached.’’

Fal­loon had al­ready made a sub­mis­sion on the pro­posal, which high­lighted the com­plete lack of clar­ity on what in­vest­ments might be made with the pro­ceeds.

‘‘The coun­cil are ask­ing ratepay­ers to blindly agree to the sale of Alpine En­ergy shares which pro­vides solid and grow­ing re­turns, in favour of un­known in­vest­ments we don’t know will re­turn greater div­i­dends,’’ Fal­loon said.

Grey Power Ti­maru ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber Jock An­der­son said com­mer­cial sen­si­tiv­ity was a ‘‘fee­ble ex­cuse for non-dis­clo­sure’’.

‘‘This is a ma­jor com­mu­nity is­sue, and as such, the coun­cil has a moral and so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­lease the doc­u­ments.

‘‘The coun­cil must lay all its cards on the ta­ble. Only that way can we find out whether or not they’re play­ing with a stacked deck.’’

An­der­son said the whole process had been shrouded in se­crecy.

‘‘In the ab­sence of any re­port, you could just as well say that the fig­ures were plucked out of the sky. That is no way to run a busi­ness, and cer­tainly no way to run a pub­lic body,’’ he said.

Fed­er­ated Farm­ers South Can­ter­bury pres­i­dent Ja­son Grant said it ‘‘seemed a lit­tle bit strange’’ that the coun­cil has de­cided not to re­lease the re­port.

‘‘There could be com­mer­cially sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion in it, but if it’s a straight val­u­a­tion then it’s hard to see the harm re­leas­ing it,’’ Grant said.

Labour List MP Jo Lux­ton, who had pre­vi­ously called on the coun­cil to ex­tend the sub­mis­sion dead­line so peo­ple could ob­tain more in­for­ma­tion, said yes­ter­day the lack of in­for­ma­tion was a big part of the is­sue for the com­mu­nity.

‘‘They aren’t telling the com­mu­nity ex­actly what they in­tend to spend the money from sales on. Now we see they aren’t re­leas­ing this re­port,’’ Lux­ton said.

‘‘I un­der­stand that some­times some in­for­ma­tion can be sen­si­tive but there must be parts of it that can be re­leased. There is too much ‘un­known’ and the coun­cil, who was elected by the com­mu­nity, need to be open and trans­par­ent about their agenda here.

‘‘If the coun­cil’s plans are so strong and clearly ben­e­fi­cial, then they’d have no prob­lem out­lin­ing that to their com­mu­nity. If the coun­cil can’t make a strong busi­ness case here, and they clearly haven’t so far, then I cer­tainly won’t be sup­port­ing their pro­posed sell off,’’ Lux­ton said.

Peo­ple have un­til 5pm on Mon­day to make a sub­mis­sion, with coun­cil hear­ings sched­uled for De­cem­ber 18. The coun­cil is ex­pected to make its de­ci­sion the fol­low­ing day.

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