Timaru District Council refuses to release analysis of Alpine Energy share sales proposal
Labour List MP Jo Luxton has called on the Timaru District Council to extend the council’s submission deadline, although the council says it is unable to do so.
Timaru District Council is refusing to release the report that valued the holdings company’s shares in Alpine Energy.
Timaru District Holdings Ltd – the council’s holdings company – has proposed to sell down its 47.5 per cent share in the South Canterbury lines company. It has valued the potential sale of these shares at $110 million.
On November 9 Stuff requested under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act any documents, reports or consultation submitted for or presented to either Timaru District Council or Timaru District Holdings Ltd about the proposal to sell shares in Alpine Energy Ltd.
On Friday, the council responded verbally that it would not release a report which it commissioned to value the shares before putting out its sale proposal to the public. Despite repeated requests to council from 9am Friday, the TDC did not supply a statement confirming the refusal until 4.30pm.
READ MORE: Alpine Energy submissions deadline won’t be extended
The TDC cited grounds of commercial sensitivity, namely the fact it is “likely to unreasonably prejudice the commercial position of the person who supplied the information”.
“In deciding to do this (not release) we have carefully assessed the considerations for withholding the information, in this case, are not outweighed by the public interest in making the information available”.
Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon said the refusal was “staggering”.
“The council’s promotion of the sale has been all about how the dividend to TDHL of $4.7 million is low for the level of investment,” Falloon said.
“A key part of that equation is the $110 million valuation. I’m a bit stunned that TDHL won’t release any of the work on how that price was reached.
Falloon had already made a submission on the proposal, which highlighted the complete lack of clarity on what investments might be made with the proceeds.
“The council are asking ratepayers to blindly agree to the sale of Alpine Energy shares which provides solid and growing returns, in favour of unknown investments we don’t know will return greater dividends,” Falloon said.
Grey Power Timaru executive member Jock Anderson said commercial sensitivity was a “feeble excuse for non disclosure”.
“This is a major community issue, and as such, the council has a moral and social responsibility to release the documents,” Anderson said.
“The council must lay all its cards on the table. Only that way can we find out whether or not they’re playing with a stacked deck.”
Anderson said the whole process had been shrouded in secrecy.
“In the absence of any report, you could just as well say that the figures were plucked out of the sky. That is no way to run a business, and certainly no way to run a public body,” he said.
Federated Farmers South Canterbury president Jason Grant said it “seemed a little bit strange” that the council has decided not to release the report.
“There could be commercially sensitive information in it, but if it’s a straight valuation then it’s hard to see the harm in releasing it,” Grant said.
Labour List MP Jo Luxton, who had previously called on the council to extend the submission deadline so people could obtain more information about the proposal, said on Friday that the lack of information was a big part of the issue for the community.
“They aren’t telling the community exactly what they intend to spend the money from sales on. Now we see they aren’t releasing this report,” Luxton said.
“I understand that sometimes some information can be sensitive but there must be parts of it that can be released. There is too much “unknown” and the council, who was elected by the community, need to be open and transparent about their agenda here.
“If the council’s plans are so strong and clearly beneficial, then they’d have no problem outlining that to their community. If the council can’t make a strong business case here, and they clearly haven’t so far, then I certainly won’t be supporting their proposed sell off.”
People have until 5pm Monday to make a submission, with council hearings scheduled for December 18. The council is expected to make a decision the following day. So far, there have been more than 300 submissions on the proposal.
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