Feb 3, 2011

Assets sales, iwi and Maori

Iwi, through the Iwi Leaders Group, exercise considerable influence over aspects of government and Maori Party policy. What iwi lack is economic clout to, for lack of a better term, legitimise their power. A degree of control over  strategic assets, and I use the word strategic in its loosest sense, such as Air New Zealand and various power companies would grant iwi a solid power base. Certainly if iwi controlled a large enough share they could exert some political influence over decision making.

Maori, rightfully, control huge tracts of forestry land, some important national resources such as geothermal steam, lake beds and some of NZ’s most profitable tourism ventures. Why not add to that list Air New Zealand and a collection of electricity companies. The more involved iwi become in the New Zealand economy the more power they have. Hypothetically, if iwi were to gain control over our state owned electricity companies, and thus become a monopoly power, they could determine the terms on which New Zealanders shall have access to electricity. This is power that only government should have but it is power iwi want. I am not implying iwi would, if they suddenly aquired such power, use it against the interest of New Zealanders. I think it is just a good example of the degree of power iwi are seeking.

But what would assets sales mean for Maori? Profit (in the medium to long term of course). But will that profit flow back to the people? I doubt it. Many iwi authorities adopt a top down approach when distributing wealth. Tertiary students, kaumatua and kuia, Marae, researchers and employees usually receive generous support. However the unemployed, the desperate and the dysfunctional or in other words those most in need tend to receive very little, or nothing. So profit becomes meaningless for those at the bottom. Privatisation also means social obligation to those less able to pay is lost. Therefore, social obligation too many Maori is lost.  

As far as I am aware the only iwi with the means to participate in assets sales are Ngai Tahu and Tainui. So what we will see is a concentration of wealth in two of our largest iwi. The small players will be left to dabble in little tourism ventures and land rentals. Such an inequitable situation cannot be good.

As I said in previous post assets sales will most likely lead to a decrease in government services. Iwi, as major proponents of asset sales, have an obligation, albeit a small one, to step in and attempt to negate the affects on Maori as a result of decreased services. The problem is iwi lack the economies of scale required to deliver what government once did.

With all of the above in mind assets sales seem like a dumb idea. I’m sure more competent commentators are aware of many, many more reasons why iwi support for asset sales is stupid. My biggest concern is iwi comfort with National Party policy will greatly influence the Maori Party's choice of coalition partner. Make no mistake, a second term National government is the biggest threat to Maori wellbeing since Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, the two biggest private generators (in energy terms) are Maori - and not iwi. The largest private generator has been Maori since the early 1990s. Maori ownership will not affect electricity pricing policy in the slightest.

    You are right to observe that so far iwi benefits have largely been top down, but that is primarily because the assets iwi have are a drop in the bucket compared to the need that exists. Moreover most iwi have a ratio of about 20% living at home, 80% living outside the rohe, making service delivery very difficult. And I dont think iwi could focus only on the ones at home, and ignore the diaspora that have perhaps greater need (struggling far away from traditional tribal structures). How iwi spend their money is a separate issue from whether iwi should have SOE assets returned to them.

    Finally, Crown policy has been that SOE assets are not available for treaty negotiations. To then sell those assets to (most likely) overseas owners is just not right.



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