Where does one start with the debacle that is the Kohanga Reo Trust Board and its commercial subsidiary, Te Pataka Ohanga (TPO)? Does anyone come out of this looking good?
Not Hekia Parata and her Ministry. Ms Parata looked utterly incompetent as she lurched from holding a late-night press conference announcing that an EY (Ernst & Young) report into the Trust had found no misuse of public funds (nothing to see here, folks!), to suddenly calling in the SFO this next day. Why had the report even been ordered? After all, the allegations that triggered the report couldn’t even be legally investigated by EY. As David Farrar has pointed out:
Ernst & Young have no powers to investigate Te Pataka Ohanga, but the Auditor-General has extensive powers and I believe it would have been far better for the Auditor-General to be asked to investigate.
The Trust Board certainly hasn’t done much to airbrush its image. Derek Fox, the Trust Board spokesperson, came on National Radio’s Checkpoint, appearing evasive, unbriefed and angry non-transparent. What were the new allegations that Ms Parata had heard of only in the last 12 hours? He vacillated between apparently not knowing and stating that there were no new allegations – all allegations were months old, and the Trust Board had intended to meet to discuss them on Sunday. Why had it taken the Board so long to meet, if the allegations were months old? Did the Board not view the allegations as being serious? No coherent answer. Mary Wilson continued to press, and Mr Fox seemed to show a frightening disregard for transparency. He seemed genuinely aggrieved that the SFO had been called in, as if the Government had no right to demand answers on the use of public money.
Of course, Maori TV looks good. It was their Native Affairs reporters who originally broke the story, in the face of a degree of flack from a number of prominent Maori figures. Those leading the charge against Native Affairs saw the story as a betrayal of Maori values; that the issues should have been dealt with privately, without dragging people’s names out into the light. Given that the Trust Board (from Derek Fox’s Checkpoint comments) does not appear to have actually even met to discuss the initial allegations, and certainly no one from TPO appears to have been disciplined in any way, shape or form, the Native Affairs approach now seems wholly vindicated.
Jordan Williams of the Taxpayers Union, appearing on the Panel on National Radio, says that EY would generally have no problems investigating subsidiary companies such as TPO. If that’s the case, were EY directed not to investigate TPO or have EY made a conscious decision not to?