Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bob Edlin: Mystery still shrouds ‘incident’ that sparked latest ministerial sacking

Boom!  There  goes another  minister…
PM  Jacinda  Ardern  wasted little time  in firing  Meka  Whaitiri  as  Minister  of Customs after   receiving a  report  into  an  “incident”  in Gisborne  on  August  27   involving Whaitiri and one of her staff.
Ardern said she no longer had confidence Meka Whaitiri as a minister.
That is why I have taken the action I have.  I’ve made the decision solely on this incident. I’m confident in the decision I have made.”
No  mucking about this time, as there was  over the  Curran  affair.  Yet there  are  still elements of  mystery  over precisely  what  happened  in that  Gisborne  “incident”.

Ardern  concedes  the facts   are  still in dispute  but the  report she received  from  Ministerial  Services – which  was  charged  with investigating  what happened  between the  minister and a  press secretary  – says  an “incident” occurred.   Whaitiri continues to contest details of the incident, but “there are elements which are agreed,”.
The   PM  says protecting the privacy of the staff member involved  is paramount.
The  departure  of   Whaitiri  won’t  trigger  an executive reshuffle  to  bring in a  new minister.    Kris Faafoi,  who  is  proving  one of the  safest  pair of hands in  the  Labour-led coalition,  will  keep the  Customs  portfolio  which  he  took over when  Whaitiri  was stood down on  August  30.
Besides  holding the Customs  portfolio, Whaitiri had Associate Agriculture, Associate Crown Maori Relations, Associate Forestry and Associate Local Government ministerial responsibilities.   These responsibilities will revert to the lead ministers.
There had been  speculation  that the dismissal of Whaitiri would  provoke ructions  with the  Maori caucus, of  which  she was co-chair.  But  Ardern   insists the caucus  supports her decision.
Whaitiri is the MP for the Māori electorate of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, which stretches down the east coast of the North Island.
Earlier   there  had  been reports   of  high  staff  turnover within  her ministerial  office  and  and some sources said she had  been  “difficult to work with”.
Her   career  before she  entered Parliament  indicated  she was a high  achiever.  After stints in shearing gangs on the East Coast and later at the freezing works in Whakatu, Hawke’s Bay, she went on to complete a Masters in Education from Victoria University.
She was hired in the Department of Labour by Parekura Horomia, who would later become a Labour MP for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti and Māori Affairs Minister. She rose to be  deputy secretary in the department and from 2007 to 2009 was a senior adviser to the Minister of Māori Affairs.
When  Horomia died in 2013 she was selected to stand for Labour in the by-election in his Ikaroa-Rāwhiti seat, which she won with a 1659 vote majority.
Whaitiri was a Treaty negotiator for her Rongowhakaata iwi and spent four years, from 2009 to 2013, as chief executive of Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated, the organisation which represents the third largest iwi.
After being officially sworn in as minister last year she said she thought of Horomia whose legacy she had worked hard to honour.  “I hope he thinks the girl he met at the freezing works all those years ago is doing okay at following his instructions to ‘hold the line’”.
That  may prove  more difficult  now than she thought just a year ago.
Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.

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