Hard-working? Nah!

I just took a look at the Trust’s two public-facing platforms, their Facebook page and their website, inspired by a Trust e-newsletter I just received (did you?).

I thought those might indicate just what the Trust does that warrants its $750,000 annual budget.

On the website, the most recent news (and only 2023 communication) was a March media release commending Unison for its “outstanding response” to the cyclone crisis. No hint of any concerns regarding preparedness or improving future power life-line resilience. Plus a notice of the Trust’s upcoming Annual Meeting on 26 July, 3pm at Toitoi.

On the Facebook page, which has 628 followers, there was a notice of the Trust’s upcoming Annual Meeting. Two weeks ago, someone asked if the meeting would be live-streamed. No reply as of this writing.

Scrolling down, I observed that there were no other entries in 2023. Didn’t we have a flood or something this year that got Unison flooded at numerous sites? It would seem the Trust was otherwise occupied … certainly not watchdogging.

Scrolling still deeper into the past, through all of 2022, I found nine entries, eight of which reminded us how lucky we were to get a dividend cheque from these fine people. And one of which, in April 2022, was their most recent e-newsletter … until the July 2023 version mentioned above.

That’s a heap of non-communication.

Thinking there must be more going on at the Trust than an occasional dividend reminder, I queried the Trust a few week ago for copies of the minutes of their monthly (I’m told) Board meetings. I was told such minutes were not publicly available – “considered confidential” said the Trust Secretary.

Are deep, probing, highly sensitive discussions underway at the Trust regarding Unison’s performance, its risk profile and future resilience, its climate change response? Who’s to know?

However, in a breakthrough for transparency, the minutes of each year’s Annual Meeting are posted once they have been approved. So this year’s meeting will officially approve the minutes of the 2022 Annual Meeting. Ah, the pace is dizzying.

If you received the latest Trust e-newsletter, you would also know that an Ownership Review (i.e., regarding the Trust’s ownership of all Unison shares) is underway, as required every five years. Essentially the Trust askes Unison for a report on ownership options and Unison dutifully responds by rubber-stamping the status quo.

BayBuzz queried Unison on how they went about preparing this report … they referred our questions regarding their required work back to Trust Chair Diana Kirton! Seems like a short leash. The 2018 report was based on ten pages of theoretical options analysis from accountants PWC, none of which discusses actual alternative arrangements now in effect in NZ.

An interesting item in the draft 2022 Annual Meeting minutes is this: “There were questions around a requirement to seek a valuation of Unison Networks which the Trustees will consider when asking for the Directors Report.“ But in the official request to Unison for the report, a copy of the pro forma request given to BayBuzz, there is no mention of a valuation. An independent valuation is something one would think shareholders would be keen to have.

As Baybuzz previously reported, a group of HB power consumers – under the banner Free The Funds – is seeking to challenge the status quo arrangements.

On 15 September the Trust will release the report and call for public submissions, with a public meeting to hear those on 10 November … just around the time we get our next dividend cheque (last year was 25 November).

Golly, I have my calendar marked; can’t miss this opportunity to thank the Trustees for all their hard work in person.

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8 Comments

  1. I have always wondered what value these five trustees provided for their handsome honoraria. Now I know! Thanks Tom

  2. Tom, perhaps you are being overly tough in your comments on what the Trust does that “warrants” its $750,000 annual budget. As a past trustee, of 18 years, I make the following points.
    The 2022 financial report of the Trust to 30 March 2022 gives details of expenditure totaling $751,995, of which $200,000 was for charges the Trust had to pay for distributing more than $15,000,000 (yes, $15 million) to consumer-beneficiaries.
    Of the remaining $551,000, the Trust paid $321,000 for energy efficient projects for consumers – audit fees, secretarial/accounting fees, insurance and public relations costs amounted to $86,000.
    This left $144,000 of which Trustees fees were $140,000.
    I suggest to you, and your readers, that any management and distribution of funds to shareholders incurs costs and charges. Trustee fees are minimal at only 1% of the dividends consumer owners received.
    Ken Gilligan MNZM, JP

  3. Only natural for you to claim that Mr Gilligan, after sucking off it All those years………
    Let us hope the present Trustees properly fullfill their Obligations! This time around??

  4. Ken Gilligan is right. A bit more analysis of the $750,000 would’ve given readers a bit more perspective before jumping to conclusions. I have still to hear any solid reasons why a sell-off of the trust into, say, a publicly listed company would deliver any better outcome for consumers…other than a cash grab that is. I guess this may be canvassed at the upcoming annual meeting.

  5. So much confusion, which is really not all that surprising, because the HBPCT does its best to keep you in the dark. The alternative proposition is that the shares are given to the consumers/beneficiaries, to hold and manage on their own behalf. Then the real beneficiaries can continue to receive dividends [arguably greater than at present], or to sell them for a cash settlement. It is NOT a sell-off of Unison. The Trust adds no value.

    1. An interesting set of comments. When it comes to keeping people in the dark, the ‘freethefunds’ organisation do a pretty good job. Who are they and why do they need to keep their identities secret?
      The cost of dividend distribution is a real cost. At the moment Unison have one shareholder. If the free distribution of shares occurs then they (Unison) will have similar costs to HBPCT, so its possible the increase in cash distribution will be minor isn’t it?
      You cannot say ‘ít is not a sell-off of Unison’ Once the shares are distributed there can be no control over who sells or who buys those shares. Freethefunds themselves report two lines organisations have passed into foreign ownership.

  6. Great article Tom. I have worked within some trusts and believe when the public cannot access minutes there is often a dark reason behind it, or the fact they these meetings didn’t take place at all. So nothing to report which would cause more reason for the public to know and seriously have good reason to complain. The public should at least have some level of access to the process of how trust members manage to revote themselves in for another year. Based on what, the little work they have done and how the right new blood into the trust would expose all of this. I hope the 12k will become available to those that need it. People are still struggling post the cyclone, this money would really help. Keep on their tail Tom. Great work.

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