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Govt must move quickly to protect taxpayers

Govt must move quickly to protect taxpayers

Monday 21 Mar 2005
Deborah Coddington
Press Releases -- Economy

Communications Minister David Cunliffe and Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton must act immediately to recover $5 million given to a Maori trust for investment in telecommunications under the old and banished "Closing the Gaps" policy, ACT Communications spokesman Deborah Coddington said today.

Te Huarahi Tika Trust - or Maori Spectrum Charitable Trust - was given $5 million taxpayers' money in 2000 along with a 10-year right to purchase Third Generation (3-G) telecommunications spectrum at 95 percent of the lowest price received at auction. Further, the Government exempted the trust from paying gift duty on the 5 percent discount.

"The trust gave $4 million of this to Econet Wireless, an African telco, which according to New Zealand Companies Office records has used up almost all its cash and chewed through $3.6 million in shareholder equity with still no mobile phone network in sight," Miss Coddington said.

"With $6,804 cash in the bank and no overdraft facility, Econet will be struggling to 'increase Maori participation in the information and telecommunications sector in New Zealand'.

"Econet was also meant to pay the Maori trust $24,000 a year for tertiary sports scholarships and $36,000 a year for tertiary academic scholarships for Maori but there is no evidence these commitments have been met.

"Despite the Economic Development Ministry recommending in 2002 there be regular meetings between representatives of the trust and relevant Ministers - David Cunliffe of Communications, Jim Anderton of Economic Development, and Parekura Horomia of Maori Affairs - my written Parliamentary Questions have revealed that not one meeting has taken place.

"Minister Steve Maharey's website still boasts the success of the Maori Spectrum Charitable Trust, under the heading `Closing the Digital Divide' and `Te Puni Kokiri - Closing the Gaps'.

"Papers I have obtained under the Official Information Act show that Treasury, and the 2002 Minister of Communications Paul Swain, had reservations about this spending of taxpayers' money but their concerns were ignored.

"It's outrageous that yet another huge chunk of taxpayers' dollars have been thrown at a Maori trust, under the spurious heading of 'Closing the Gaps', and not one Government Minister has bothered to check up on the spending. This is another example of the lack of accountability which the Labour Government gets away with.

"I bet Messrs Anderton and Cunliffe would never spend $5,000, let alone $5 million of their own money on a mobile phone network without making damn sure the network was up and running and the company paid to build it was kosher. It's shameful that when it comes to taxpayers' money in danger of going down the drain they simply turn a blind eye," Miss Coddington said.


For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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