National appears to be about to break an election promise, and this one appears to be a whopper.
As Anthony Robins at The Standard reveals, National promised last year to maintain a majority shareholding stake in each state-owned enterprise, by owning more than 51 per cent of each company.
Now the plan appears to have changed. National will now insist on 51% control, but not 51% ownership.
This would allow more than 49% of the shares in some state-owned assets to be sold, if some of those shares are non-voting shares.
Non-voting shares are special classes of shares that are sometimes issued to investors. They usually prevent the shareholder from voting on matters relating to the company, such as the appointment of directors. But non-voting shares will usually allow their holders to take a share of the profits in the company proportionate with their shareholding.
The measure, if passed, would allow the majority of the profits in some SOEs to go to private investors, rather than to the government. We were told again and again that this would not happen.
If National plans to honour the promise it made in 2011 then this measure should not be required. National cannot issue more than 49% of the shares in any SOE under any circumstances (voting or otherwise) without breaking its promise.
So what's going on? Does this government really have such a low regard for the commitments it makes to the general public?
Now I'm sure some of National's apologists will be along soon to make the argument that majority control somehow amounts to majority ownership, and I very much look forward to seeing the contortions they are required to undergo in order to conflate control with ownership. The two are not the same, period.
But this measure can be stopped. It is not yet law. The man and the hour may be just about to meet. This country needs a hero, someone who will go in gangsta style in defence of reason and common sense. Is there such a man?