12 Jul 2018

'It's murky': Questions over use of Provincial Growth Fund

11:09 pm on 12 July 2018

National wants answers as to why the Economic Development Minister is giving out cash to a private trust it says is set to make a killing off it.

Shane Jones

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

A newsletter sent out by the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust, which has secured $6 million of Provincial Growth Fund money for a second round of pine planting on land in Northland, suggests trust benefactors are getting an exceptionally good deal which is "far superior to previous arrangements".

It said the specifics of the deal were commercially sensitive, but "the financial returns to the beneficial owners to be received from this Forestry Right upon harvest will be substantial [sic]."

The newsletter also reveals the deal will require a third round of planting by the Crown.

"The Forestry Right with the Crown is for one rotation only and it includes the requirement for the Crown to plant a third rotation at its cost which will then be owned 100 percent by the Trust," the newsletter said.

National's economic development spokesperson Paul Goldmith said that proved serious financial gain for a private trust - which went directly against the core principles of the Provincial Growth Fund.

"We've been asking the minister and the ministry for the business cases, clarity about what is actually being purchased, what the performance indicators are before they get the money - and they've refused to give us that information so far.

"It's murky, it's been lacking in transparency and the basic principles of good governance."

Mr Goldsmith also pointed out one of the trustees was former New Zealand First MP Pita Paraone, who he suggested lobbied the minister, Shane Jones, for the money.

But, Mr Paraone said he was appalled that the National Party had sunk so low as to accuse him of soliciting Crown cash.

"I was not part of the discussions as to whether or not Ngati Hine should lobby the minister and I don't believe that they did," he said.

"I had no part in the signing of the deal, or determining what the deal should be, other than to attend the actual planting of the first tree."

Mr Paraone asked how far National was willing to take this argument.

"Is it that all males related to those in the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust are precluded into entering any arrangement from the Crown? I think that this is a clear sign of desperation on the part of the National Party and I'm really disappointed that they should sink to this level."

The land being used by the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust was initially planted in the 1980s, in a joint venture with Carter Holt Harvey. The deal saw the trust receive 9 percent of stumpage profit.

Since that first round of planting was felled, the Trust has struggled for two years to find another venture partner.

Its proposal to the Provincial Growth Fund proved successful however, falling under the coalition government's one billion trees programme.

Mr Goldsmith said so far there had been about three lines in a press release about each of the deals Mr Jones had signed off on, and when some of it leaked out by accident, the result was not very impressive.

"It's of deep concern and quite sad. New Zealand has a good record on transparency, good governance and decision making and probity.

"Yet we have this large fund running amuck, with a minister that basically regards questions as some form of joke."