1 Apr 2015

Solid Energy resignation over Govt disagreement

7:23 pm on 1 April 2015

The Finance Minister has confirmed the former chair of Solid Energy resigned because she did not believe any more could be done for the troubled coal company.

Solid Energy's headquarters.

Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Bill English said Pip Dunphy had a different view about the future viability of the company.

Bill English during caucas run this morning.

Finance Minister Bill English Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

She stepped down in February, with no explanation, after less than a year in the job.

An email from Ms Dunphy to the Solid Energy directors, released today, reveals she had a difference of opinion with Mr English.

In the email Ms Dunphy wrote: "I received a message from Minister English yesterday before the meeting but only listened last night. His view was that the issues were resolvable and I seemed to be of the view that they were not and he was keen to speak to me.

"I rang him this morning and said that my impression of last night's conversation was that ministers and their advisors thought the board's position was wrong. I said I take responsibility for that and I did not want to stand in his way of achieving what they believe is possible. I said in my view it was in the best interests of the company that I resign."

Mr English said Ms Dunphy had a number of worries.

"Whether the company was a going concern, whether it was technically solvent, what the obligations to the creditors were, what liabilities directors might be facing, what the ongoing role of the banks was going to be? So all of those issues are under negotiation right now."

Mr English said it was too simple to say Ms Dunphy wanted the company wound up while he did not.

'People are sick of guessing'

In the midst of concern about Solid Energy, Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Select Committee this morning considered its report on the company.

Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove.

Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove Photo: Supplied

A member of the committee, Labour's state-owned enterprises spokesperson Clayton Cosgrove, said the public deserved to know more about what was happening at the coal company.

"I think people are sick of guessing. I think the workers down there are sick of everybody guessing and all the naysay and hearsay. I moved a resolution that we actually write to the chairman and get the full text of the email in and get some explanation. The National Party turned that down."

Mr Cosgrove said it was possible Ms Dunphy resigned because she did not believe Solid Energy was a going concern. But there were questions that needed answering.

"After 400 workers have gone, 800 workers I should say, and $400 million of taxpayers' money and counting has gone I think at this point we are owed some detailed explanations from ministers," he said.

Mr Cosgrove said he still thought Solid Energy was a viable business.

Mr English also said he thought the company could still be saved, despite Ms Dunphy's resignation because of her worries about the company.

"We are taking every effort we can to secure the viability of this company and we've had a great deal of support and input from Mrs Dunphy on the way through who did a very good job as a chairman of the board," he said.

Mr Cosgrove said Mr English had not helped Solid Energy by so publicly refusing to give it any more money.

Meanwhile, in an unusual move, the Government has not sent a letter of expectation to Solid Energy asking it to outline its plans for the coming year.

Mr Cosgrove said he was surprised by that.

"A company that's in deep trouble and a minister just says 'I have no expectations'. Well, there's 800 jobs gone, $400 million worth of debt. I would have thought the expectation would have been circle the wagons and stabilise the ship."

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