Occupy Wellington Send Message about State Owned Asset Sales

Press Release – Occupy Wellington

Departing from the global Occupy movement’s reputation for relying on modern social networking, Occupy Wellington supporters hand-delivered a letter to the Minister of Finance and Minister of State Owned Enterprises today, requesting justification …Occupy Wellington Utilize Old and New Technologies to Send Message about State Owned Asset Sales

Departing from the global Occupy movement’s reputation for relying on modern social networking, Occupy Wellington supporters hand-delivered a letter to the Minister of Finance and Minister of State Owned Enterprises today, requesting justification for the sale of state owned assets.

The Occupiers’ letter is a response to the announcement this month that the New Zealand Treasury has hired Lazard Ltd., a foreign investment bank, to advise the National government on the sale of state assets. It has been estimated that Lazard will be paid around $100 million for their services.

“Like the vast majority of New Zealanders, many people in the Occupy movement are concerned that the sale of state owned assets won’t benefit the public of New Zealand” says John Maynard, a supporter of Occupy Wellington and President of the Postal Workers Union of Aotearoa Southern District.

“We thought we’d write our ministers a letter to ask for an explanation as to how selling state assets will make for a more equitable distribution of wealth” says Maynard.

The delivery of the letter was accompanied by a speech on Parliament lawn delivered by Bill Rosenberg, Council of Trade Unions Economist and Director of Policy.

The content of the letter was also loudly conveyed to onlookers and MPs at Parliament using a public address technique called the “human microphone”, in which the speaker’s words are amplified by the voices of surrounding supporters.

The human microphone technique arose out of the ban on amplification in Zucotti park in the early days of Occupy Wall St and has become ubiquitous throughout the global Occupy movement.

Because Lazard Ltd. does not have an office in New Zealand, the group chose to send an email to Lazard CEO Kenneth Jacobs, extending an invitation for him to join a public discussion to explain the bank’s perspective.

While Occupy Wellington has heavily utilized internet social networking and web-based conferencing to communicate with national and international Occupy supporters, more traditional channels have also been used since the beginning of the movement.

In the first week of the Wellington Occupation, a letterbox was donated and installed at the Occupy site by the Postal Workers Union of Aotearoa, allowing the group to receive messages of support by post to their Civic Square address.

For full text of letters, please see below.

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Full text of letters:

Re: Lazard’s Contract with New Zealand Government to Advise on State Asset Sales and Invitation to Visit Occupation Wellington

Dear Mr Jacobs

We understand from news reports that your company has a contract with the National Party Government of New Zealand to advise and assist in the partial sale of our publicly owned assets. We believe that the New Zealand Government is operating without the mandate of the people it is charged with representing. As taxpayers, we object to our money being committed to such a contract.

While we understand that this is an attractive contract for your company to engage with (it has been reported that Lazard stands to make up to $100m) we are unsure whether the benefits will extend to the New Zealand public.

According to your web page, “Lazard Wealth Management offers an advisory platform for wealthy individuals and family groups…” The Occupy movement worldwide seeks to address problems caused by the increasing concentration and disparity of wealth in our various countries. Wealth disparity and income inequality are strongly correlated to a great number of negative social outcomes.

New Zealand has become one of the most unequal countries in the OECD. Last year the wealthiest 150 individuals and families in New Zealand increased their wealth by $7 billion while 200,000 children are living below the poverty line.

We believe the involvement of your company in any sale of public assets in New Zealand will lead to a further consolidation of wealth in fewer hands. As citizens we already collectively own the State Owned Enterprises through the two shareholding Ministers; the Minister of Finance and the Minister for State Owned Enterprises.

We want the dividends from these assets to continue to flow through to the people, not into the pockets of those wealthy enough to buy a significant number of shares, or the stockbrokers who will ‘clip the ticket’ on every share trade.

Polling in this country has consistently shown that a clear majority of the population is opposed to the sale or partial sale of public assets. The involvement of an overseas investment company casts further doubt on the Government’s claim that it expects most shares of any sale to remain in New Zealand.

We are committed to the future of this country. Our work, our homes, our families and our futures are here.

As part of our activities here at Occupy Wellington, we have been hosting public lectures by academics and community leaders on a diverse range of topics from economics to the environment. We would like to invite you to come and explain how Lazard’s involvement in the proposed asset sales will benefit the New Zealand public. We hold a public event at 5.30pm every Friday called the People’s Forum, which would be the ideal place for this discussion to take place. If this time does not suit, please get in touch and we can arrange an alternative.

Kind regards,

Occupy Wellington friends and supporters

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To the Minister of Finance and the Minister of State Owned Enterprises,

We are writing to you regarding your recent appointment of Lazard Ltd., a foreign investment bank, to advise you on the sale of our State Owned Enterprises.

This appointment has been undertaken in spite of polls indicating that 60-80% of New Zealanders oppose the sale or partial sale of our publicly owned assets. Occupy Wellington believes that we should retain 100% public ownership of the proposed assets.

We presume that you believe this appointment to be in the interests of our country. The contract will clearly benefit Lazard and their shareholders, to the tune of an estimated $100m. However, since this money will go overseas, we cannot see how this contract will benefit the New Zealand public. We are concerned that this decision is contrary to your earlier claim that sales of public assets will primarily benefit New Zealanders.

We are also concerned about your choice of Lazard investment bank as a broker for the sale of our public assets. According to Lazard’s web page, “Lazard Wealth Management offers an advisory platform for wealthy individuals and family groups…” The Occupy movement worldwide seeks to address problems caused by the increasing concentration and disparity of wealth in our various countries. Wealth disparity and income inequality are strongly correlated to a great number of negative social outcomes.

We would like to invite you to explain your point of view in an open forum, enabling a public dialogue about how the appointment of Lazard to advise on the sale of state assets will benefit the New Zealand public. Please contact us to schedule a time that suits you, and we will arrange a public discussion to hear your perspective.

We would like to inform you we have also sent a similar letter of invitation to Mr K M Jacobs of Lazard.

Yours Sincerely,

Occupy Wellington friends and supporters

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