A Serious Fraud office inquiry into kohanga reo-related spending should ring alarm bells for a government committed to giving billions upon billions of state dollars and assets to private tribal entities for social services, housing, and as an “economic base”.
Allegations of the misuse of public funding by the Kohanga Reo National Trust Board’s subsidiary Te Pataka Ohanga last October prompted an audit of Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust’s financial controls over public funding by Ernst & Young.(1)
Education Minister Hekia Parata last Tuesday night released the Ernst & Young audit that she said showed there was no misspending of public money by the trust, admitted the allegations which sparked the inquiry had not been addressed, and then said the matter been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.(2)
Last October by Maori Television's Native Affairs programme alleged two leaders of the trust's commercial arm, Te Pataka Ohanga, had used business credit cards to buy dresses, accommodation and gifts worth thousands of dollars. The kohanga reo trust went to the High Court to try to block Native Affairs' broadcasting the results of its seven-week investigation before backing down.(3)
Trust spokesman Derek Fox insisted that the relationship between the trust and Te Pataka Ohanga was the same as any other employer-employee relationship, and that the subsidiary was free to spend its money in whatever way it deemed appropriate.
The fact that Maori Television's Native Affairs programme broke the story of the alleged misspending meant that it could not immediately be written off as racist Maori bashing. The lengths the kohanga reo trust went to in a bid to suppress the story indicates issues that appear to go way beyond using the wrong credit in a momentary lapse.
The implications of the tangled relationships between Maori appointees and public money go beyond koha and the kohanga reo. Tracy Watkins of the Dominion Post points out that:
For Parata to hold such a view [the simple device of passing money through a subsidiary has the transformative power of turning public funds into private funds] should disturb her colleagues as much as it disturbs the public, given her seniority in a government for which devolving hundreds of millions, ultimately perhaps even billions, of dollars to third-party providers is central to its ideology. The debacle surrounding Parata's oversight of an inquiry into spending by TPO could - and should - ring bells about the Government's oversight of spending in a raft of areas, including Whanau Ora, Parata's flagship charter school roll-out, and the massive divestment of social housing to third party providers to name a few.(4)The amount of money spent in these areas is significant. Requests for spending details for the 2012-13 year under the Official Information Act revealed Te Wananga o Aotearoa receives about $170-million, Te Puni Kokiri spends $205-million, kohanga reo language nest pre-schools receive $67.5 million with $2.64 million for administration, Whanau Ora takes $49-million.
The “economic base for Maori” treaty settlements industry meant that in the 2012-13 year Vote Treaty Negotiations consumed $519.97-million, and the Waitangi Tribunal took $10.7-million out of the Courts budget. Waikato River co-governance costs $16-million a year. Environmental accords and other co-management cost a further $6-million.
The 177 Maori social service providers around New Zealand could chew through $1.7-billion each year. Joint ventures with tribal corporations for social housing will open up another trough worth hundreds of million.
Maori entitlements commentator Morgan Godfery argues “There's a rot in Maori governance. From poor governance at Maori TV to the Kohanga Reo board, Maori aren't being served”. He also raises questions about political alliances between the National and Maori parties and the Kohanga Reo elite: “Lastly, what's Parata and Sharples connection to board members? It could be their personal relationships that lead them to protect the board. If you pick apart the fabric of Maori society you'll find important seams that connect and overlap.”(5)
There’s also a rot in the co-governance conducted by the government and tribal corporations. Regular meetings between the Iwi Leaders’ Group and Cabinet Ministers take place without comment in a way that would spark outrage from the Labour Party and the Greens if the New Zealand Business Roundtable had such access. Just imagine the uproar if the Prime Minister used Anzac Day to meet with a non-Maori business group and offer an inducement to a member company in the same way that he did with Ngapuhi on Waitangi Day this year.
Such cosy relationships give the impression of corruption. A sweep-out is needed but it is difficult to see who will pick up the broom. Labour leader David Cunliffe mounted a spirited attack on Parata today on Morning Report but it is difficult to imagine him taking on the Maori entitlements industry. His rival Shane Jones may do better, and wouldn’t be called a racist Maori-basher.
Prime Minister John Key has rejected suggestions that the Government had referred the matter to the Serious Fraud Office because it did not want to be seen to be pointing the finger at a Maori organisation.(6)
But Key has shown that he has a blindspot to do with things Maori. He appears to agree to requests from the smiling treatyists he regularly meets in the Maori Party and the Iwi Leaders’ Group as they relentlessly chase entitlements. He has agreed to Whanau Ora, helped put the marine and coastal area into a legal no-mans land for tribes to claim, agreed to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Persons, and flies the Maori sovereignty flag.
1. The Financial Review of the Kohanga Reo National Trust Board. http://www.minedu.govt.nz/theMinistry/InformationReleases/~/media/MinEdu/Files/TheMinistry/TeKohangaReoFinancialReview2014/18MarchEdReport.pdf
2. New Kohanga Reo claims spark SFO call, Stuff, March 19, 2014.http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/9844400/New-Kohanga-Reo-claims-spark-SFO-call
3. Editorial: Fraud office probe crucial in kohanga reo case, NZ Herald, March 20, 2014. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11222645
4. Leap of faith to believe Parata, Dominion Post, March 22, 2014. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/9854658/Leap-of-faith-to-believe-Parata
5. Wrong questions, wrong answers: the rot in the Kohanga Reo. http://mauistreet.blogspot.co.nz/2014/03/disaster-politics-rot-in-kohanga-reo.html
6. New Kohanga Reo claims spark SFO call, Stuff, March 19, 2014. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/9844400/New-Kohanga-Reo-claims-spark-SFO-call