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Vested interests drive investment rule shake-up

23 July 2009
Secrecy and vested interests drive investment rules shake-up

The appointment of five lawyers from firms that make money from overseas investment to advise the Government on rewriting overseas investment rules is a blatant conflict of interest, said Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman.

When Finance Minister Bill English announced on 17 March 2009 that a Technical Reference Group (TRG) ‘will be established’ in order to simplify overseas investment rules, the criteria given was that the group would be comprised of ‘senior legal practitioners with expertise in applying the Act’.

The five members of the Group are lawyers drawn from Bell Gully, Simpson Grierson, Russell McVeagh and Chapman Tripp and Minter Ellison Rudd Watts - all law firms that make money advising overseas investors.

All members of the group appointed received letters on 12 March 2009 from former Minister of Land Information Richard Worth thanking them for agreeing to be on the review - five days before the Government even announced the review.

Notably missing from this group are any legal experts from groups tasked with providing protection for sites of specific cultural, environmental or historical significance.

Information obtained under the Official Information Act by the Green Party shows that officials were advised not to formally announce the TRG but rather to put any information about this group in a ‘non-highlighted’ section of Treasury’s website.

Information pertaining to their advice is branded confidential. Group members will not be asked to give formal advice or produce a formal report, in order to avoid any ‘conflicts of interest’ that may arise due to members’ employment.

In other words there will be no paper trail to gauge what specific advice the TRG gave the Minister or how any potential conflicts of interest have been handled.

In a February publication foreshadowing the current review, Chapman Tripp – a law firm represented on the review declared that it would be raising its concerns over the current Act ‘with the government on behalf of its clients.’

“The Green Party believes in honest and transparent politics. With this process it seems there will be no paper trail left to determine how any potential conflicts of interest have been handled by the TRG,” said Dr Norman.

“The process involved in reviewing the rules around our heritage needs far more transparency and input from all groups rather than those with particular financial interests.”

Link to the Treasury Website regarding the Technical Reference Group

http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/informationreleases/overseasinvestment/review2009/tortrg

ENDS

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