Swain: SOE comments not related to broadband

IT minister Paul Swain's office denies that strong statements he made about clarifying the role of SOEs will result in any new initiative in the nationwide broadband network development.

IT minister Paul Swain's office denies that strong statements he made about clarifying the role of SOEs will result in any new initiative in the nationwide broadband network development.

There are no plans to do anything different or more intensive with SOEs on any other front apart from the broadband projects, says a spokesman for Swain.

"The government has encouraged SOEs to participate in broadband already," the spokesman says, "and there are no further plans in this direction."

This is despite the minister saying at a seminar earlier this month at Wellington’s (e)vision centre that "there is work going on" on putting the relationship between government and the SOEs on a more tightly defined footing, and that he was "under pain of death" not to reveal any further details of the arrangement (see Govt to nudge SOEs toward public interest). Such work as is in prospect, he now says, pertains to the general question of the relationship between government and SOEs.

Last week a row erupted over plans led by TVNZ chairman Ross Armstrong, who resigned on Monday, to create a group for private businesses interested in work in roading and other major infrastructure projects. A paper Armstrong sent to businesses mentioned that they may gain "first-mover advantage" from being a member of the group, a comment interpreted in some quarters as implying favouritism for those companies.

Swain knew of the plans. He, in his capacity as Transport Minister, met Dr Armstrong's group, together with Finance Minister Michael Cullen, who has since dissociated himself from the project.

Swain’s spokesman denies that any plans for SOE participation in the broadband network bear any relation to the Armstrong plan. BCL is almost certain to be involved and possibly electricity grid operator Transpower.

Neither telecommunications nor SOEs are specifically mentioned in the Armstrong letter, but the letter says relevant infrastructure matters go far beyond road transport, affecting a number of areas, excluding only education and health.

It says new transport legislation is being drafted "in a vacuum in terms of the legal and policy framework for PPPs" -- public-private partnerships.

Swain referred at the meeting to a similar situation in relationships between the government and SOEs, saying it was unacceptable to continue in a state of "steady as we drift" without more formally defining the SOEs’ role in the broadband development.

Active PPPs with shared financial commitment, as opposed to straightforward supply of services on contract, has also been a hotly-debated topic in the e-government arena.

SAP representative Dietmar Pfaehler on a visit earlier this year said they rarely worked, but Karyn Mottershead, of Accenture Australia, maintained that successes had been documented (see No justification for 'e-waiting': Boyle; Public-private cooperation works: Accenture). E-government unit head Brendan Boyle said at the time that the unit was still open to PPPs, though none had yet been concluded.

Boyle was overseas and uncontactable, and no one else in the unit was prepared to comment on the possible impact of the Armstrong affair on that attitude.

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