6 Apr 2011

Mine receivers ask Govt to help with legal costs

9:19 am on 6 April 2011

The receivers of Pike River Coal have asked the Government for funding to enable them to provide evidence to the Royal Commision into the mine disaster.

Twenty-nine mine workers and contractors died following explosions at the West Coast mine which began on 19 November last year.

The commission opened its five-month inquiry with a preliminary hearing in Greymouth on Tuesday, during which a lawyer for the company said it could not afford to provide evidence and other material for the inquiry.

The lawyer for Pike River Coal Ltd, Stacey Shortall, told the hearing that the company asked the Royal Commission for financial help, but was turned down.

A spokesperson for receivers PricewaterhouseCoopers, John Fisk, told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Tuesday there are no funds to pay lawyers to process boxes of raw material into legal documents.

"The legal advice we had was if we actually took the full part in preparing witness evidence and other materials, we could be talking in the millions of dollars.

"At the end of the day, the company is in receivership. We have limited funds, and the funds that we do have are primarily focused on the mine stabilisation and the preservation of the asset."

While the company has about $7 million, he says, $5 million of that is put aside for the mine stabilisation plan and the remaining $2 million is needed to progress the insurance claim and for overheads.

Mr Fisk says receivers wrote to Attorney-General Chris Finlayson on Monday asking for help.

A spokesperson for Mr Finlayson, says his office has recieved a letter asking for assistance preparing witness statements and other matters. He says ministers have not yet had the chance to discuss the request.

The full inquiry is set to begin in Greymouth on 23 May and is expected to hear 15 weeks of evidence.

Mayor doesn't believe receivers' claim

The Grey District mayor says he doesn't believe the receivers don't have the resources to fully participate in the Royal Commission.

Tony Kokshoorn told Checkpoint that the receivers are doing the job on behalf of shareholders New Zealand Oil and Gas and the Bank of New Zealand and they have sources for the money.

"If they want to be transparent, if they want to be out there and open, they've got to just do their part and be part of this hearing. Surely they want an outcome.

"We've got a lot of men in coal mines. If they want to be seen to be compassionate about the men in the future mine, they've got to do their bit and front up - find the money one way or another."

Mr Kokshoorn says the receivers have 12 companies lined up to buy lucrative coal licences from them and there is no reason why they can't front up with the money.

Shareholders should help pay - former chairman

The former chairman of the Pike River company, John Dow, says the party who stands to gain the most from the Royal Commission into the fatal mine explosion should pay the company's receivers to fully participate.

John Dow told Morning Report that shareholders have appointed receivers to recover funds secured against the company's assets, and whichever shareholder stands to gain the most should be more forthcoming with funding.

Labour list MP for the West Coast, Damien O'Connor, also says Pike River Coal's shareholders should pay for the receivers to participate.