Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Mike Butler: Sharples trade trip raises questions
Maori groups with investments in forestry, including CNI Investments, Federation of Maori Authorities, Poutama Trust and the Maori Trustee, met executives from China Forest Group. Representatives of Aotearoa Fisheries, Ngai Tahu Fisheries and Ngati Kahungunu were also part of the trade mission.
Was the delegation aiming to sell stuff to China, get funding from China, or both? His “good meeting with the China Development Bank” has hints of a dream which surfaces from time to time of a Maori bank, so that Maori could make a quantum leap away from State dependence. This dream ran aground in 1986, as some readers may recall, in the Maori loans affair.
Dr Tamati Reedy, who was secretary of Maori Affairs, negotiated with Hawaiian middlemen to obtain an offshore loan for $600-million at 6 percent (at a time when interest rates were above 15 per cent) to set up a Maori bank. Reedy signed a letter of intent to pay the middlemen a finders’ fee of 3.5 percent. An offshore loan of this amount needed Treasury and Cabinet approval and Reedy had neither. Winston Peters disclose Reedy’s letter. This took a life of its own in the press as the “Maori loans affair” despite Reedy being cleared of impropriety and the loan not proceeding.
Why would the Maori Affairs Minister be seeking funding from the China Development Bank? Founded in 1994, the China Development Bank, which is a development-oriented financial institution of the government, is under the direct jurisdiction of the State Council of the Peoples Republic of China, which is a single-party state governed by the Communist Party of China.
In the apparent headlong rush to do business with the dragon economy, many conveniently overlook the unsavoury aspects of the regime that drove tanks over protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and continues to imprison dissidents, such as the blind Chen Guangcheng, who spent 19 months under house arrest before he escaped dramatically in April humiliating government officials and sparking a diplomatic row when he sought protection inside the US embassy in Beijing.
Sharples said Maori interests control 37 per cent of New Zealand's fishing quota and 36 per cent of its forests. That is simply because successive governments have and continue to hand over these assets to Maori entities under the delusion that they are compensating for treaty breaches.
Aotearoa Fisheries, for instance, according to the company’s website, came about in a sequence of events that started “in 1992, when the opportunity to finalise all commercial fisheries claims under the treaty was realised when Nelson-based Sealord Products was put up for sale. What is now colloquially known as the "Sealord deal", Maori were provided with $150-million, a part of which was used to buy a half share of Sealord, and received a guarantee for future quota.”
The Maori Fisheries Act 2004 established Aotearoa Fisheries Ltd and Te Ohu Kaimoana. Aotearoa Fisheries manages the commercial arm of certain settlement assets, and Te Ohu Kaimoana acts as a governance body for those Maori interests in the marine environment.
Today, Aotearoa Fisheries business comprises Moana Pacific Fisheries, OPC Fish and Lobster, Prepared Foods, Pacific Marine Farms and Kia ora Seafoods. In addition, Aotearoa Fisheries owns 50 percent of Sealord Group Limited, which has an annual turnover of $500-million. There was no mention of the involvement of foreign charter vessels, such as those that occasionally sink, and from which crew try to flee.
Similar company histories could be provided for the other entities represented on the Sharples China trade trip. The question remains is if Maori entities have such large assets and high cash turnover, and if these entities were created to establish an economic base for Maori, why do so few Maori see any benefit?
Caution is required in international relations. When Winston Peters was appointed as the foreign minister outside the Clark government Cabinet in 2005, the move was criticised as sending "a very bad signal" to the rest of the world” since “it's a signal that New Zealand doesn't think foreign affairs has enough status to warrant a seat around the cabinet table."
Since Sharples’ Maori Affairs Minister position is outside of Cabinet, his delegation will not be perceived as a government initiative, although his standing as a government minister would gain him, and all members of his delegation, access that may be otherwise denied to non-governmental business delegations. And since he is outside Cabinet, he is not bound by the rules of the Cabinet manual.
When Sharples signed New Zealand up to the highly contentious United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples two years ago he said it “restored the mana and moral authority of Maori to speak in international forums on justice, rights and peace matters”. It would appear that Sharples already dwells in the plurinational state of Aotearoa capable of carrying on a separate trade with the rest of the world, or with China at least.
at 11:18 AM