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Govt’s Foreign Investment Oversight Policy

Chief Reporter

Government’s Foreign Investment Oversight Policy: Asleep At The Wheel

Bill English has released the first of the recommendations of the review of the Government’s overseas investment regime (any changes to the actual Overseas Investment Act have yet to be announced).

Utterly predictably, they focus obsessively on liberalising what paltry “oversight” there is left in that regime, because apparently it’s just too hard for the poor old foreign investors who are all busting their guts to come here and save little old New Zealand.

Laughably, English’s big idea is to delegate even more of the decisions to the Overseas Investment Office (OIO), which already approves 98% of them. This can be best be described as the asleep at the wheel policy, removing the necessary political input by the relevant Ministers charged with acting in the national interest (as opposed to National’s interest).

CAFCA has always said that the OIO’s job could be done by a monkey with a rubber stamp. It sees its role as a doorman, not a bouncer. It is not a neutral administrator but an active advocate for the transnational corporations and foreign land buyers which it defines as its clients (not the people of New Zealand, for whom it nominally works).

If Ministers had not chosen to do their jobs and left it up to the OIO, Auckland Airport would now be foreign-owned. The OIO was happy to approve that, it took the Government to act in the national interest and veto the sale.

Another recent high profile example was Brierley’s attempt to sell its Sealord stake overseas, at the beginning of the Labour government. The then Overseas Investment Commission (OIC) was all in favour; the Government vetoed it. CAFCA got the whole file on the subject from the OIC and it is a textbook case of just what is wrong with leaving it all in the hands of the rubber stampers. The OIC went to extraordinary lengths to try to twist the Government’s arm to approve the sale. For example, when relevant Ministries recommended that prospective foreign buyers be refused because they failed the “not of good character” condition in the Overseas Investment Act, the OIC urged the Government to ignore and/or override that. There were many such examples in the file.

It is all detailed in “Sealord Sale: OIC Exposed”by Bill Rosenberg in Foreign Control Watchdog 95, December 2000, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/95/8sealo.htm One quote will suffice: ”The OIC had become a conduit of commercial pressure on the Ministers; the quasi-judicial façade it had tried to construct in analysing the decisions and recommending their approval had disappeared and they were acting as lobbyists for the companies”.

And that’s what the OIO remains today –lobbyists for the companies. Obviously, the Government is happy to not even pretend to do its job in relation to foreign investment.


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