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The Government Moves To Shut Me Down 1 December 2003 Edition
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Over the next few days, I'll be documenting a sorry little saga that has left me completely and utterly exhausted -- mentally, physically and financially. In fact, I really don't know how I'm going to pay the power bill or the rent this week.

And, while I'm not quite suicidal (yet:-), I must admit that I might have to think twice before jumping out of the path of any oncoming bus that threatens to run me down.

With 24 sleeps left to Christmas, I know there'll be no presents under my tree this year - in fact there won't even be a tree.

This whole thing has however, taught me a very valuable lesson: do not openly criticise the government or piss off any of its employees unless you're prepared to face the consequences -- and boy, if you do both, those consquences can be extreme!

As I document the events that have transpired over the past year or so, you'll be able to draw your own conclusions as to the sensibility of government's (in)actions, the motives behind them and the desirability of the outcome they produced.

You'll also discover that, seemingly unconcerned with the best interests of the country, they have been more than happy to scuttle a deal that was set to deliver significant overseas investment, many new jobs, a new hi-tech manufacturing facility, give NZ another small but important foothold in the global knowledge economy, and generate millions of dollars in export earnings.

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Yes, at last, this feature has been updated again! (31 Mar 2003)

In order to be fair, I must admit that I feel quite bitter about the whole thing right now (having your hopes, dreams, and years of bloody hard work completely destroyed by a bunch of bureaucrats will do that to you every time) so my objectivity may be slightly sub-optimal. However, having said that, I will attempt to present the facts without bias or prejudice.

As I type this, it is clear that the government never had any intention of providing the miniscule amount of help (non-financial help I might add) that I needed to prevent the actions of one of its departments from destroying an otherwise signed-and-sealed deal.

That's right - I wasn't asking for a grant, for cheap land, a cash hand-out, subsidised workers, a low-interest loan, or indeed for any of the other forms of help that the government so often dishes out to far more tenuous propositions. The problem I faced could have been sorted out months ago with a simple inter-office memo.

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In fact, when I say that I was asking for government help - I was actually asking that the actions taken by a government department that threatened to kill this deal might simply be reversed. In effect I didn't so much want them to help seal the deal (which was already signed) as to stop trying to scuttle it.

But now, as I key these words onto the screen, it's 15 minutes after midnight and the date has just rolled over to December 1, meaning the hard-won deal I signed on a trip to the USA earlier this year has become null and void - effectively negating many months of hard work and many thousands of dollars in costs and effort on my part.

All, I believe, because of the vendetta of a government department, lack of a little ministerial intervention to call them to heel, and a total disregard for the best interests of taxpayers.

Now if I had rolled up to government requesting help with a "long-shot" proposition and the "possibility" that it might result in jobs, exports and all the other benefits then I could understand their reticence to lend a hand.

However, what I had was a signed and sealed agreement for the licensing of my X-Jet engine technology. A deal that included overseas investment and significant, guaranteed export earnings. And here's an interesting twist: when the X-Jet technology was little more than a risky and untested idea, the government was keen to offer me $36,000 of taxpayers' money (which I declined to uplift) by way of a technology grant. Yet when I bring them a signed and sealed multi-million dollar contract for the sale of the very same technology (with significant benefits to NZ and taxpayers) - they can't be bothered lifting a finger to stop one of their agencies from sinking the deal. Were they simply miffed that I would dare to refuse their grant money or something?

Yes, I have a signed "Heads of Agreement" which commits a very well-financed US-based company to provide investment capital to set up an NZ manufacturing plant, pay an annual and per-unit licensing fee and purchase manufactured sub-assemblies for export -- this was a win-win deal that stood to provide benefits for all concerned. The agreement was conditional only on me providing a small amount of additional test information, something I would have no problem in doing -- until another government agency bent on carrying out its own little vendetta stepped in to shut me down that is.

So why did a government department, appear to deliberately wreck the deal - and why did Anderton and his officials do nothing to rectify the situation and protect *everybody's* best interests?

Why was government prepared to pour $36,000 of taxpayers money into my technology when it was just a "possibly clever idea" with absolutely no guarantee of success, yet refused to provide even the slightest assistance once that same technology was developed to the point where it was about to provide some very real returns for everyone (me, the taxpayer, NZ's ranking in the hi-tech economy, etc)?

Certainly I can see no way that it's a decision that was made on fiscal grounds. Why would the government throw away new jobs, overseas investment, export earnings and the not-insignificant taxes that would be collected from such a venture? One thing's for sure, scuttling the deal would not save the taxpayer one red cent -- in fact, even putting aside the issue of lost earnings, the loss of this deal will actually cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. Money that could surely be better spent on health, welfare and education or reinvested into fostering NZ's knowledge economy.

All I can think of is that it's a result of the regular criticism I've leveled at the government and various ministers in recent times.

Indeed, Jim Anderton has been one of the most critiqued ministers in this column. That's the same Jim Anderton who, as the Minister for Economic Development, you'd think would be most keen to ensure that such a deal would not be wrecked by the actions of another government agency.

So did Jim lend a hand? Well, during the six months of me chasing the issue with him, emails were exchanged and I even spoke to a couple of his officials on the phone -- but nothing was resolved. Then, the week before last, I was told that Jim would be deciding what to do on the weekend (that's last weekend) and that I'd be advised the following Monday.

Despite emailed requests last week for some kind of follow-up - I received nothing.

So it seems that Jim simply wasn't interested in saving this deal. Bugger the knowledge economy, bugger the taxpayer's best interests, bugger Bruce Simpson.

No, his assistance would not have cost the taxpayer one red cent - a quick meeting with another government department and a suitable directive to the same could have sorted this thing out in a few minutes or so.

And now it's all too late.

I'd really like Jim to explain to the public, at a time when the government sees fit to give a Maori spiritual healer and clairvoyant over $90K, largely to pay off his tax bill (which should have already been paid with money previously given to him by the government anyway), why this deal was allowed to fail for lack of a memo or two and a directive to a government department?

Could it be that I've criticised the government (and Jim Anderton in particular) once too often and they saw the chance for a bit of personal payback - at the taxpayer's expense?

After all, until they were caught out, the government were engaged in handing out taxpayer dollars to those groups who were prepared to lobby on the government's behalf and support them - so why would they not be equally prepared to punish and penalise (at the taxpayer's expense) those who chose to criticise them?

Or is it something to do with the fact that I'm (quite legally) building a cruise missile in my garage and documenting it on the Net - an activity that clearly irks officials in the USA. Maybe they see that driving me broke might be a clever way to scuttle that project and earn back some of the brownie points lost when Helen Clark insulted George Bush earlier this year?

Mind you, they do say that one should never attribute to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence -- and we've all seen many examples of the government's lack of competence when it comes to issues relating to the knowledge economy.

Whatever the real reason, this saga sends a very sage warning to all those who might consider embarking on the risky venture of starting a knowledge-based business here in New Zealand. Not only will you have to battle the tyrany of DSL monopolies, a lack of venture capital, and an administration that apparently believes The Arts, spiritual healing/clairvoyance and political correctness are far more important than any hi-tech knowledge-based enterprise -- but you may find yourself in the same position as me -- being ankle-tapped by government just as you're about to cross the finishing line, if doing so fulfills some other political agenda.

There must have been some pretty damned important reason to deny the people of this country the benefits that were set to flow from the deal I'd bought to the table. This is even more the case when you realise that NZ has just experienced its biggest balance of trade deficit (Sept 2003) since statistics began (1960) - so generating new export earnings should be a very high priority right now.

So that's the situation - over the next few days I'll provide more detail and explain exactly how the government scuttled this deal, what they refused to do to rectify the situation. What's more, I'll be revealing some very disturbing facts (including threats made against me by a government employee) and naming names within the department that was ultimately responsible for the actions that scuttled the deal.

Perhaps those responsible will learn that when you screw a person so hard that they have nothing to lose, you actually empower them to divulge many details they might have previously thought twice about disclosing for fear of vexatious libel suits or other actions. After all, those who are left with nothing have nothing to lose.

I'll also tell you what I'm now going to do with the X-Jet technology and why.

That's if those who might be most embarrassed by this don't find some jumped-up excuse to shut me down or otherwise prevent me from publishing this information.

Hmmm.. I wonder how much I could sell advertising space for on *this* week's editions of Aardvark? :-)

The Next Instalment: "We'll get you" said the woman from the IRD

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