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$680k Slap in the face for Westland Farmers

05 August 2020

by Chris Leitch, Leader, Candidate for Whangarei

The resignation of Westland Milk Products chief executive Tony Brendish almost a year to the day the company was sold to Chinese conglomerate Yili makes a mockery of assurances that there was no conflict of interest in top management preparing the company for sale in 2019.
The fact that Ms Brendish was on a salary of 1.1 million and received a $680,000 bonus from Yili on top of that, will likely result in many of Westland’s former farmer shareholders shaking their heads in disbelief when they consider they are locked into long hours, early mornings, and the vagaries of nature endured by farming on the coast, to earn the pittance they do in comparison from their investment.
It would appear Ms Brendish had no long-term commitment to the company and having shepherded the sale through, waited just long enough to endeavour to make it look seemly that she had taken the money and departed.
If this isn't a glaring example of the fact that the interests of the former cooperative’s farmer shareholders were trampled on in the takeover then nothing is.
I agree with Otago University senior accountancy lecturer Dr Helen Roberts who said at the time that it appeared Yili was willing to pay the management to encourage farmers to sell their assets and that raised a conflict of interest.
I fail to see how any senior manager could properly represent the best interests of the original owners when they had the prospect of a $680,000 bonus dangling in front of their noses if they managed the sale process successfully.
We are challenging by way of judicial review in the High Court, the procedures adopted by the Overseas Investment Office in approving the sale.
Given the role of OIO as the ‘gatekeeper’ to acquisition of New Zealand assets by overseas entities, we believe it must ensure that it applies the proper legal test, that it has sufficient information to determine which test should be applied to a particular application for consent, and that all necessary matters are taken into consideration.
In our view the OIO failed to properly make its decision to consent to the Westland Milk takeover, hence our application for a judicial review which we lodged last September.
Once we have a decision on that, we may well turn our attention to the actions of the board and senior management and how those actions, and the bonuses that were paid, played out in the takeover process.
Social Credit has a long standing policy of opposing foreign takeover of land and businesses by overseas buyers and would seek to reinstate New Zealand ownership of strategic assets.
The Party is seeking financial support in its fight. Donations can be made to this account -
Kiwibank 38-9000-0601245-02 or made on the Give-A-Little page set up for the legal challenge ( Westland Milk Sale Judicial Review ).

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