Crown Fibre Holdings chair Simon Allen has defended board member Murray Milner in light of Labour’s claim over possible conflict of interest.
Yesterday, Labour ICT spokesperson Clare Curran publically questioned Milner’s role as a consultant to technology supplier Huawei and his role on the CFH board.
Huawei was quick to defend Milner’s role, issuing a press release and leaving a comment on Computerworld’s story yesterday evening, making the following points: “The contract was for a period of three months - that contract ended more than two months ago.”
“The consulting work for which we engaged Dr Milner was related to retail services and therefore not directly related to the UFB project.” This morning Computerworld spoke to Simon Allen and asked him to explain what the “retail services” were, here is his reply: “It is about, you’d have to ask them what the detail is, but it is like – UFB and all that is such a big area, it spans from all the way up through to backbone and the whole system and the way it comes down through to retail in the broadband sense is probably what they are referring to.”
Huh? Allen, who has a financial not a telecommunications background, arranged for CFH to email Milner’s presentation at the Huawei Ultra-Fast Broadband Technology Summit on 17 September 2010 to Computerworld. It is entitled “UFB Impact on New Zealand Transport Capability” and on page three Milner thanks Huawei for making his research possible.
“I am most grateful to Huawei New Zealand for giving me the opportunity to investigate the impact of UFB on transport in New Zealand. They have sponsored the development of this work and supported it through access to their technology capability and skills.”
Milner’s presentation (as the slide below demonstrates) discussed in some technical detail broadband delivery in New Zealand.
Computerworld asked about the perception that Huawei has an advantage over its rivals because they don’t have “their man on the Board”, but Allen refutes this, saying the CFH Board has at no time discussed equipment suppliers.
So we asked if it was difficult with Milner, and Jack Matthews (who worked for Saturn), being the only board members with a technical background. Allen says they have employed consultants from Australia, US and Europe and have consulted widely within the industry.
“He (Milner) is the one with the technical knowledge, there is no doubt about that. It is very valuable in working through things, but the organisation itself is seeking world’s best practice advice in these areas.”
Allen says the Board has systems in place to manage potential conflicts of interest, which board members must declare at every meeting. So what if Milner came to the next board meeting and said he was consulting with Huawei or one of their rivals, what would the Board say now?
“We asses anything on its own merits, that’s the way you have to manage potential conflicts,” Allen says.
In a statement emailed to Computerworld yesterday evening ICT Minister Steven Joyce expressed confidence in the CFH Board’s processes.
“I have spoken this evening with the Chair of Crown Fibre Holdings and remain satisfied that CFH has robust and comprehensive procedures in place regarding conflicts of interest, which all Board members and staff are required to comply with.”