Shane Jones digs himself into a hole

Photoshopped image: Credit RickH

Shane Jones’s billion trees project is having some trouble getting off the ground… if you see what I mean. quote.

Forestry officials working on the Government’s flagship One Billion Trees plan ordered more than one million pine seedlings for a block of land so choked with scrub and weeds planting couldn’t go ahead.

Forestry Minister Shane Jones told the?Herald?”ambition” and “enthusiasm” had a part to play in planting delays which struck the $32 million inaugural joint venture on the Far North forestry block.

Official documents show the Government planned to plant 1100ha with pine this year and had ordered about 1,100,000 seedlings for that.

The number of seedlings able to be planted collapsed to 191,000 as the condition of the land was revealed.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has yet to put a dollar figure on the cost to taxpayers, but market rates for seedlings put the cost of the order at about $400,000.

The deal between the Crown and the Far North’s Ng?ti Hine Forestry Trust was?trumpeted by the Beehive as the first Crown joint venture?in the One Billion Trees programme.

Documents released through the Official Information Act show Jones sealed the agreement during a May 31 ceremony on a Ng?ti Hine forestry block, at which he planted a tree using a shovel engraved with his name. end quote.

Well, they could manage to organise a shovel, although it seems that is all they could do. The important stuff, like getting the land ready for planting, seems to have passed them all by. I suppose that requires hard work, doesn’t it? quote.

Ng?ti Hine documents seen by the?Herald?show the iwi did not have enough money to replant the entire forest block itself and had failed to find a commercial partner to take on a joint venture.

The $32m joint venture with the Crown over more than 20 years means the trust now has funding to plant about 3600ha with pine and about 500ha with m?nuka. The deal is intended to return $63m to the Crown at harvest.

He was told on April 6 that 1100ha was “potentially available for 2018 planting”. “Seedlings sufficient for the 1100ha of planting under the to-be- negotiated forestry right with the Ng?ti Hine Forestry Trust have been secured,” Jones was told by officials.

“Early indications are that the area planted in 2018 will be less than half of the 1100ha originally indicated as a consequence of the degree of weed and scrub regrowth on sites harvested as many as six years ago.” end quote.

And nobody thought of this? quote.

A Treasury briefing paper also released through the OIA showed Treasury urging Finance Minister Grant Robertson to reject a $116m grant scheme because of the “the lack of detail around grants” and a $127m partnership package, again because “little detail” came with the Budget bid. In the 2018 Budget, $240m was provided for both schemes. end quote.

Those pesky kids at Treasury getting it right again.

ACT ?is now claiming that cabinet is just rubber stamping Shane Jones’s requests for money. quote.

The?NZ Herald?reports?that Shane Jones asked Cabinet to approve $240 million for the One Billion Trees programme without providing any detail on how it would be spent.

The Government?s economic advisor, Treasury, urged the Minister of Finance to say ?no?: ?The paper currently does not detail how the funding will be spent…no detail around how many trees, or what kind of trees will be delivered…grant categories and rates, and the operational design of the grant scheme has not yet been determined…there are still several important details still to be worked through.?

“It’s almost unbelievable that a quarter of a billion dollars was requested, and approved, with so little detail about how it would be spent. end quote.

There really is something very cavalier about all this. Normally, ministers have to go through a rigorous process to get funding approved. It seems Shane Jones can just wave a magic wand and nobody asks why. Here is one reason why those questions should be asked. quote.

MPI’s Crown forestry general manager Warwick Foran said several of the seedlings ordered had been diverted to other projects. Seedlings which had not been collected from nurseries had to be paid for.

Northland MP Matt King said Jones should be well enough connected locally to hear the warnings around the condition of the land. “Local knowledge tells me the land has reverted back to scrub because Ng?ti Hine could find no one to go in partnership with them to do a replant.

“So now it’s going to be hugely expensive to replant that block. It’s going to involve mulching, slashing and a lot more time and money.” end quote.

Horticulture 101. Prepare the land for planting. This can take some time and effort, although if they are planting pine, the land probably doesn’t need huge preparation. This is such a basic mistake, it is unthinkable that no one had taken control of it.

The theme to The Muppets Show keeps going around in my head these days. Why am I not surprised?