Here’s a recent story I don’t think got as much attention as it deserved. This piece by Vernon Small revealing Finance Minister Bill English’s role in (basically) bankrupting Solid Energy:
Labour has tabled documents in Parliament showing that ministers put pressure on Solid Energy in 2009 to increase its debt levels and pay bigger dividends, despite warnings a falling coal price could crimp its profits.
Finance Minister Bill English confirmed the instruction in a letter from then State-Owned Enterprises Minister Simon Power to the state coalminer’s chairman, John Palmer.
“The Government, in its first term, looked at SOE balance sheets and decided many of them could carry more debt. It made a decision to allow Solid Energy to take on more debt,” English said.
He had approved a higher debt level in 2009.
Ronald Reagan was once asked if his acting background helped him become US President. Reagan replied, ‘I can’t imagine how anyone who wasn’t an actor could do this job.’
I think about that line whenever I see Bill English talking in his gruff, serious voice about belt-tightening and prudence and fiscal discipline. English is very respected around Parliament and among the pundits: the common-sense, no-nonsense Southland farmer who is balancing the books, running a tight ship, counting every penny etc.
Which is ironic, because English’s performance as Finance Minister has been one multi-billion dollar debacle after another. There was the great tax switch, which was supposed to be revenue neutral and stimulate consumer spending, but which the government still borrows $1.5 billion/year to pay for and which preceded a consumer recession. There was the finance company debacle. The botched partial privitisation of the asset sales. The ongoing housing crisis. The seventy billion dollar debt and series of stealth tax increases and feeble accounting scams to pretend we’re back in ‘surplus’. Now his role in Solid Energy’s collapse.
English’s actual performance as Treasurer is mostly awful but his performance as a dour, gruff very competent and serious Senior Minister is flawless and, politics being what it is, the latter is what counts.