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Public assets gone by dinner time

A decision on whether to transfer up to 40 percent of public assets owned by Horowhenua District Council to the recently named Horowhenua New Zealand Trust will be made at a council meeting on June 6, according to a well-placed local government source.

The Horowhenua New Zealand Trust is not legally registered yet which means the public do not have access to who the directors are, the Trust deed or how the process of transferring up to 40 percent of publicly owned assets to the Trust will be managed.

In response to the question, "Is the council going to vote on transferring public assets to the Horowhenua New Zealand Trust next week" council's chief executive David Clapperton said, "I'm just about to go into a meeting" before hanging up the phone. All further attempts for a comment from Mr Clapperton and the council’s communications team have been ignored.

Late last year Council announced in a report on the Trust and in a council press release an intention to transfer up to 40 percent of public assets to the Trust for seed capital.

Mayor Michael Feyen said, "This council is in no position to make decisions about the transfer of ownership to the Trust until more information about the Trust is made available. We need more transparency and independent information."

"In my opinion I don't think the implications are understood by council and less by iwi. If private ownership is conferred on public assets they can't be part of an iwi claim or treaty settlement which is a big concern."

He named the Eastland Community Trust set up by Gisborne District Council as an example of an excellent Trust model due to the independence of directors.

Directors of the Horowhenua NZ Trust are members of council's in-house economic development board, but information on whether directors also include three councillors on the board is not yet publicly available.

Council's economic development manager Shanon Grainger said the Trust model was, "explicitly detached from local government so that local government politicians are not compromised, and investors are not compromised."

He said examples of public assets to be transferred, "include commercial/industrial buildings and land, rural leases (grazing land), land purchased for infrastructure projects that is no longer needed, and so forth."

Economic development board members with multi-million dollar interests in land and property development and construction industries include land and property developer councillor Wayne Bishop and Stevensons managing director Evan Kroll whose engineering company is involved in construction in the lower North Island. Cr Bishop is in an influential position as deputy mayor and deputy chair of the economic development board.

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