Soros versus NZ on war against drugs

George Soros promotes drug policy reform and harm reduction causes…

Billionaire business magnate and philanthropist George Soros—who has long bankrolled drug policy reform and harm reduction causes—has published an op-ed in today’s Financial Times. It’s in support of a new report from the London School of Economics, which is signed by five winners of the Nobel Prize for economics and calls for an end the international War on Drugs.

Soros describes the report as “the most thorough account of the war on drugs” to date. Authored by some of the world’s top economists, it outlines the far-reaching damages wrought by international counter-narcotics efforts, and recommends that governments give top priority to evidence-based drug policies, moving away from prohibition and towards harm reduction. With this message, Soros writes: “I heartily concur.”

“For more than four decades, governments around the world have pumped huge sums of money into ineffective and repressive anti-drug efforts,” he continues. “These have come at the expense of programs that actually work such as needle exchanges and substitution therapy. This is not just a waste of money, it is counterproductive.” Soros is the founder of Open Society Foundations, which has done extensive work in promoting harm reduction programs.

But Soros believes “change is still possible” and hopes the new LSE report could herald a new direction in global drug policy. He writes: “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix a broken global framework for coping with the drug crisis. The costs of doing nothing are too great to bear.”

Source: http://www.substance.com/george-soros-weighs-in-against-the-war-on-drugs/
Hat Tip @NZDrug NZ Drug Foundation

…while New Zealand’s Parliament vote last night to effectively ban synthetic drugs and continue a futile war against drugs.

Warning as legal highs become illegal

The Government is warning of heavy penalties for selling, making or possessing synthetic drugs after the deadline of midnight tonight, when all remaining products will be stripped from shelves.

Parliament yesterday began debating an emergency law change under urgency, which will ban all remaining party pills and synthetic cannabis until a rigorous testing regime is in place.

It will come into effect tomorrow at 12.01am.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said that at this point, all interim approvals for psychoactive drugs would be revoked, remaining products would be recalled and retail licences would be cancelled.

“It will also become illegal to possess these products, so anyone thinking of stocking up … should bear that in mind.”

The penalty for possessing a small amount of a psychoactive substance is a $500 fine.

New Zealand seems to be changing in the wrong direction, repeating the failures of the past.

George Soros in the Financial Times:

National talk tough with Waitangi Tribunal

National are pressuring the Waitangi Tribunal to come up with findings this month to enable the float of Mighty River Power to run to schedule in September – or at least to enable the Government to proceed while appearing to have given due consideration to the Waitangi Tribunal.

We’re not waiting, Govt tells tribunal

The Government says it will decide early next month if it will go ahead with the sale of Mighty River shares this year, whether it has a detailed Waitangi Tribunal report on Maori water rights or not.

Finance Minister Bill English and State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall yesterday told the tribunal to speed up the delivery of its findings on a Maori Council claim into water rights by a month.

The ministers said leaving the tribunal decision until next month as scheduled would affect the Government’s entire asset-sales programme.

Mr English said he had asked the tribunal to deliver its findings by August 24 because the Government would need to make decisions by the first week of September if it were to proceed with the partial float of Mighty River Power this year.

He said the Government would make its decision then whether it had the tribunal’s findings or not, “on the basis of all the information available to us at that time, including the Waitangi Tribunal’s memorandum of July 30”.

Difference of opinion on timing:

In that memorandum this week, the tribunal requested the Government delay the Mighty River float until it delivered its findings.

It said such a delay should have little or no impact on the timing of the planned float.

But Mr English said this was incorrect. Delaying beyond the first week of September could mean the Government lost the chance to make the initial public offer this year and could result in a delay to the entire asset-sales plan over the next two years.

The September report from the tribunal was to be interim, it may have to be a bit more interim.

Bill English put out this press release yesterday:

Government seeks information from Tribunal

02 August 2012

The Government has written to the Waitangi Tribunal seeking further information on the Tribunal’s findings, recommendations and supporting reasoning with respect to its inquiry into national fresh water and geothermal resources.

Ministers have also clarified timing constraints under which the Government is operating for the proposed sale of a minority shareholding in Mighty River Power in 2012, Finance Minister Bill English and State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall say.

“The Government wants to consider the Tribunal’s recommendations and the reasons behind them as part of its decision on the Mighty River Power share offer this year,” they say.

“As we have said, we want to act in good faith and carefully consider the Tribunal’s recommendations.

“However, we appreciate the Tribunal’s interim direction on 30 July did not make substantive findings on any of the issues it identified. So we have today asked the Tribunal to provide its recommendations and reasoning by 24 August.

“To proceed with a Mighty River share offer in 2012, ministers would need to make decisions by the first week of September.

“We would do this on the basis of all the information available to us at that time, including the Waitangi Tribunal’s memorandum of 30 July.

“However, ministers would welcome the opportunity to consider the Tribunal’s detailed findings, its recommendations and its reasoning, which we do not have at this stage.”

The Government has also clarified the timing constraints it faces in making decisions about proceeding with the Mighty River Power share offer in 2012.
“The Tribunal expressed a view that there would be minimal or no delay to the share offer if it reported on stage one of its inquiry by the end of September,” the ministers say.

“However, there are a limited number of windows each year in which a share offer can take place.

“Delaying a decision beyond the first week of September and losing the 2012 window for the offer would have significant consequences, not only for the Mighty River Power offer, but also in delaying the rest of the share offer programme over the next two years.

“We have said consistently that we would welcome timely recommendations from the Tribunal. With that in mind, we have asked the Tribunal whether it is able to provide its recommendations and supporting reasoning by 24 August, so ministers are able to consider them alongside all other relevant information.”

http://www.billenglish.co.nz/archives/834-Government-seeks-information-from-Tribunal.html

Politicians, journalists and bloggers fix MOM Bill

Politicians (obviously) and journalists have long been essential contributors to a healthy democracy. But a recent example shows that bloggers (and ordinary people) can also play an important part in media and politics.

It’s well known that in January last year National introduced a policy idea of partial asset sales. Their Mixed Ownership Model policy was a major part of their election campaign (and Labour’s anti-asset sales stance dominated their campaign).

A significant component of National’s proposed policy was:

The Government will maintain a majority shareholding stake by owning more than 51 per cent of each company.

As we know, National slightly increased their vote in the election, and Labour lost votes, enabling National to form a government, which with coalition commitments gave them the opportunity to progress their partial asset sales policy.

On April 13 Vernon Small wrote an article which is still online on Stuff:

Loophole allows sale of over 49pc

A loophole in the law covering partially privatised state assets will allow much more than 49 per cent of the value of the companies to be privatised, providing the extra shares do not carry voting rights.

… a “minor policy decision” by ministers, revealed in a Cabinet paper released last week, shows that the 51 per cent limit, as well as the 10 per cent cap on individual shareholdings, will apply only to voting shares.

Small had noticed a significant change in National’s intent. This was picked up by Anthony Robins and he blogged the next day at The Standard:

Another asset sale lie

It isn’t a “loophole”, it’s simple a lie. The distinction between voting and non-voting shares is just a smokescreen. National clearly promised to retain 51% of the income from these public assets.

I’m sure there are many other sources – all the promises were about retaining 51% of ownership and income.

The “lie” claim isn often overused but Robins was right about the change from what had previously been said. This resulted in some discussion that I became involved in. I noticed the change seemed to be in breach of the National/United Future confidence and supply agreement.

Confidence and Supply Agreement

The National-led government has agreed during this term of Parliament to adopt and implement the following broad principles, policies and priorities advanced by United Future:

  • Introduce statutory limits on the sale of public assets to no more than 49% of shareholding to private interests including limits on the extent of single entity ownership

I blogged on this:

Asset sales 49% ownership at risk?

If this Cabinet decision carries through into the Bill and there is no statutory limits on the sale of public assets to no more than 49% of shareholding to private interests including limits on the extent of single entity ownership then National would appear to be breaching the C&S agreement with UnitedFuture.

If this Cabinet “loophole” is allowed to carry through I’ll be seriously questioning the honest intent of National.

And if United Future just lets this happen, disregarding what we all campaigned on and what was written in the C&S, that will be a major problem for me, and I would have to decide how to deal with it. It’s not something I could just leave and forget, I think it involves a major principle, of why I campaigned for and supported United Future, both during the election and since.

At the same time I raised the issue directly with Peter Dunne. I was later advised this was being addressed.

On Monday Supplementary Order Paper No 42 was tabled proposing amendments that changed 51% voting rights to 51% ownership.

In Tuesday’s debate on the MOM bill National prominently used this return to their original ownership commitments:

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises):

It legislates 51 percent New Zealand Government control, full stop, for all time—51 percent full Government ownership for all time, full stop—and it puts a limit of 10 percent on any one shareholder. There will be 51 percent Government control, and 10 percent limit on any shareholder, and that is important, and that is what is being enshrined in this legislation.

And Vernon Small reported again on what he had started:

Govt closes asset sale loophole

Fairfax Media highlighted the loophole in April  and it is understood that sparked a backlash from United Future leader Peter Dunne. It is understood the Government U-turned  after Dunne dug in his toes, arguing the wording in the Mixed Ownership Model Bill would breach his party’s support deal with National.

SOE Minister Tony Ryall last night moved the amendment to the Bill, which changed the requirement on the Government from retaining 51 per cent of the shares with voting rights to 51 per cent of all shares.

The change would also apply to the 10 per cent cap on individual ownership.

So from the vigilance of a journalist, the actions of ordinary people in blogs and politicians doing the right thing a part of the MOM legislation has been tidied up – a win/win/win, including for National who have rectified a problem and then used the solution as a positive factor promoting their legislation.

Apart from the satisfaction of seeing something I (and others) saw as wrong put right, this to me is a great example of how a multi-media multi-party co-operative approach can positively contribute to the functioning of our democracy. And anyone who chooses can play a part.

National on 51% ownership

The Mixed Ownership Model Bill was debated in parliament yesterday. National prominently promoted the fact that there would be “51 percent full Government ownership“.

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises):

It legislates 51 percent New Zealand Government control, full stop, for all time—51 percent full Government ownership for all time, full stop—and it puts a limit of 10 percent on any one shareholder. There will be 51 percent Government control, and 10 percent limit on any shareholder, and that is important, and that is what is being enshrined in this legislation.

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises):

This part of the Mixed Ownership Model Bill puts in the law a number of the very important features of the mixed-ownership model, particularly the 51 percent legislated guarantee that the Government will retain 51 percent of all shares in these State-owned enterprises, together with the 10 percent cap on any other shareholder.

Under this legislation, we are maintaining 51 percent New Zealand control, as a minimum owned by the Government, and a 10 percent cap on any other shareholder.

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises):

When the Prime Minister announced in January 2011 that we would have a 51 percent minimum shareholding for the Government and a 10 percent cap on any other shareholder…

TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua):

Why is that important? It is because Part 2 of this piece of legislation says that it places limits on ownership of companies named in schedule 5. Those limits are 51 percent ownership held by the Crown. It is written into the piece of legislation. It cannot change.

I’m very pleased to see this emphasis, it’s something I think is very important.

But what about credit where it’s due?

Until yesterday, there was no provision for 51% ownership in the bill. National had originally proposed 51% ownership (in January 2011 as mentioned above). But when they introduced the MOM bill that had been changed to:

The Bill prohibits a shareholding Minister in a mixed ownership model company from disposing of any shares in the Minister’s name or permitting an issue of shares or securities (or a mixed ownership model company from issuing, acquiring, or redeeming its shares or securities) if doing so would result in the Crown holding less than 51% of the voting rights in the company…

This was reported on in Stuff:

Loophole allows sale of over 49pc

A loophole in the law covering partially privatised state assets will allow much more than 49 per cent of the value of the companies to be privatised, providing the extra shares do not carry voting rights.

The Government has pledged to retain 51 per cent of the four energy companies it has put on the block, starting with Mighty River Power later this year.

But a “minor policy decision” by ministers, revealed in a Cabinet paper released last week, shows that the 51 per cent limit, as well as the 10 per cent cap on individual shareholdings, will apply only to voting shares.

The Cabinet has agreed “the 10 per cent and 51 per cent restrictions should be calculated on the basis of voting rights rather than the total percentage of all securities held (including those with non-voting rights)”.

But this loophole has now been closed. Supplementary order paper 42 introduced yesterday changed this from 51% voting rights to 51% ownership, as blogged here.

This small but significant change was due to the instigation and insistence of United Future, to ensure their party campaign and Confidence & Supply commitments were met.

United Future made a commitment to keep National moderate, and have clearly done so here.

Mixed Ownership Model Bill – 51% ownership amendments

In a Supplementary Order Paper No 42 – proposed amendments change 51% voting rights to 51% ownership.

Hon Tony Ryall, in Committee, to move the following amendments:

Explanatory note

The Bill currently contains 2 ownership limits for mixed ownership model companies: a 51% Crown control requirement and a 10% ownership cap for non-Crown persons. These ownership limits currently apply to voting rights attaching to shares and other securities of the company. This Supplementary Order Paper extends these 2 ownership limits so that they apply to shares of the company (including non-voting shares), as well as to the voting rights. The effect of doing so is that—

  • the Crown must hold 51% of every class of shares in the company, as well as 51% of every class of the voting securities (which are voting shares and other securities with voting rights); and
  • no person (other than the Crown) will be able to have relevant interests in more than 10% of any class of shares in the company or more than 10% of any class of the voting securities of the company; and
  • if a person has relevant interests in shares or voting securities that exceed the 10% limit, as well as the person not being entitled to exercise voting rights attaching to the shares or voting securities in excess of the 10% limit, no dividend or other distribution may be paid in relation to them. So as to enable the company to act with certainty (eg, to deal with complicated shareholding situations), the company may determine which are the excess securities, in accordance with the constitution, in implementing the consequences of exceeding the 10% limit.

In addition, it is clarified that the current prohibition on sales of shares by Ministers that would result in the Crown ceasing to have 51% control applies also to other types of voting securities that the Ministers may acquire.

I’m more than just pleased about this. 51% total ownership was something I and United Future campaigned on, and it was agreed to in the United Future/National Confidence and Supply agreement, so this holds fast to that stand.

It also shows that United Future can act as a moderator on National.

Regulatory Impact Statement

Providing for greater controls over Mixed Ownership Model companies, by including non-voting shares in the 51% floor and the 10% cap Agency Disclosure Statement

This Regulatory Impact Statement has been prepared by The Treasury.

This RIS provides an analysis of options to ensure that the Mixed Ownership Model Bill (MOM Bill) includes economic interests in the 51% floor and 10% cap, to ensure consistency with the Confidence and Supply Agreement dated 5 December 2011 between the New Zealand National Party and United Future New Zealand (UFNZ) (the Confidence and Supply Agreement), specifically around introducing “statutory limits on the sale of public assets to no more than 49% of shareholding to private interests including limits on the extent of single entity ownership.”

This RIS has been informed by discussions between the Office of the Minister for State Owned Enterprises and the Office of the Leader of UFNZ. Those discussions have prescribed the nature of the regulatory response, particularly in the context of the MOM Bill.

Full Regulatory Impact Statement PDF

51% of NZ ownership enshrined in legislation

On Q+A this morning Tony Ryall repeated several times that at least of 51% Government ownership will be enshrined in legislation. It’s good to hear that clearly expressed.

Ryall also said that 85-90% New Zealand ownership was likely.

There is plenty of scaremongering about “selling everything overseas”, but there is nothing to support these claims.

There is nothing but opposition conjecture to suggest that private and institutional investors – and many of us via Kiwisaver accounts – will not retain most of ther 49% of shares above the enshrined Government 51%.