Minister scoffs at idea to purchase TCI

Friday April 04, 2014 Written by Published in Technology
Minister Mark Brown. Minister Mark Brown.

Telecommunication Minister Mark Brown has dismissed an idea to use assets held in the Cook Islands National Superannuation Fund to purchase Telecom New Zealand’s 60 per cent stake in Telecom Cook Islands.

Murienua Member of Parliament James Beer - who said the idea surfaced at a meeting this week between Brown and senior managers at TCI – asked the Minister during question time on Thursday if he had discussed the matter further with acting CINSF chairman Richard Neves.

“(The Opposition) expect the Government to use the hard working savings of our workers to buy the shares in an international company,” said Brown, before claiming the last time the government “dipped its hand” in the superfund in the 1980s, it “collapsed”.

“The superannuation fund is protected by law for this precise reason.”

This week, Government officials confirmed that TNZ will be making its shares available locally for a 30-day period to anyone who can match Digicel’s current $23 million bid.

Atiu MP Norman George continued with questions on the TCI – Digicel file, asking if the Brown would support a local initiative to purchase the TNZ stake.

 “Would you not obstruct, and encourage local investors to consider this 30-day option?” asked George. “Would you open the opportunity for our people to consider this option?”

“Please give our people the chance during the 30-day period,” pleaded George.

In response, Brown said there is nothing in the way to stop people from talking to TNZ if they’re interested in purchasing the shares.

“I am quite happy to stand aside and let people discuss their options with TNZ…” he said. “In fact, I was made aware that during the discussions between Telecom New Zealand and Digicel, a couple of other companies expressed interest in TNZ shares”.

“The process and procedures are available for anybody that would like to match the offer.”

The Minister added his telecommunications advisory committee has had separate meetings with both parties to that sale and was expecting to receive feedback.

“It is important that we understand the nature of the telecom business,” said Brown, adding a company with global reach is needed to insure good prices for consumers.

“Although the sentiments are good, we must consider the practicalities of this industry and not walk into a trap that will lead to diminished services,” he said.

In response to a supplementary question from George on whether government officials would assist any potential local investors considering making a bid for the TNZ shares, Brown said he would advise his Telecom board to organize public meetings on the upcoming offering of the TNZ stake.

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