Kohanga Reo Trust in denial (still)

The government has announced that it will not be renewing its $2.56 million contract with the Kohanga Reo National Trust. This stuff.co.nz story sets out the general contents of Hekia Parata and Pita Sharples’ letter to Trust board:

In a letter to the board, the ministers said they had become “increasingly concerned with the serious criticisms raised about the effectiveness, responsiveness and transparency of the trust board”.

“. . . we remain concerned that the trust board has not publicly, expeditiously and adequately addressed the allegations of misuse of money.

“As a wholly owned subsidiary of the trust, with shared directors, it is reasonable to expect that the board should have explained these matters publicly. Instead the Government has had no choice but to refer the matter to other agencies to get accountability.”

The ministers called for an end to lifetime appointment to the board, for board representation to be more democratic and for the board to be “open to scrutiny in all respects and is publicly auditable”.

TPO was also “no longer tenable” and new arrangements needed to be made “to improve transparency over support to kohanga reo”.

The ministers said they would not be renewing the $2.56m annual contract, which pays for the operation of the trust, once it expires on June 30, though a new arrangement would be looked into.

The trust was not providing adequate support to kohanga reo, the ministers said.

That seems entirely reasonable to me. The Trust board have obfuscated for months about the allegations of financial impropriety relating to its wholly owned subsidiary Te Pataka Ohanga (TPO). Then when the microscope was turned on the dodgy financial practices of the Trust itself and its board members, the Trust’s response has essentially been an angry assertion that it can do whatever the hell it wants.

It has now received a fairly blunt object lesson that it cannot in fact do just what it wants. Refusing to renew the funding contract is about as blunt a lesson as the government could deliver. Of course, funding on an equivalent scale will end up being provided to kohanga reo, but at this stage there is no certainty about just how the funds will be distributed.

The government’s decision to axe the funding contract is all about leverage. It has taken the involvement of the Maori king for a hui to be organised to discuss changes to the Trust board and the way it is run. Of course, there’s no guarantee that anything will change, which is why the government has acted now, just ahead of the weekend’s hui. It leaves those who attend in absolutely no doubt that substantial changes must be agreed on (and presumably, some substantial changes in the personnel involved in running the Trust) for funds to continue flowing to the Trust. Otherwise, the government will simply find a fresh organisation to take over the soon-to-be-former role of the Trust.

So what sayeth Derek Fox, the Trust’s spokesperson?

But trust spokesman Derek Fox angrily rejected the criticism.

“It’s pretty disappointing, I suppose, in that the matters she refers to and the matters she referred to the Serious Fraud Office are matters that have all been dealt with by the board,” he said.

The Ernst & Young report ordered after the original allegations showed there was no misuse of public money, though it did not address allegations of misspending at TPO, which Fox maintained is a private company.

“She [Parata] welcomed that report and expressed satisfaction with it so I’m not sure why she continues to write letters saying that these matters haven’t been dealt with.”

The board had also addressed the allegations of misspending, commissioning an inquiry which led to the sacking of the person at the centre of the allegations.

Fox asked what accountability were critics seeking. “What are they really looking for . . . hangings, or would they like heads on pikes?”

All the ministers’ letter did was “create more uncertainty” in the kohanga movement ahead of the hui this weekend at Turangawaewae Marae, where changes to the trust and the way it operates would be addressed, he said.

“This looks like huge interference from the Government in the kohanga reo movement, it looks like a power struggle, that the Government seems to want to control the kohanga reo movement.”

A power struggle? Certainly. The government wanting to control the kohanga reo movement? Not so much. The government simply wants accountability over public funds. If the Trust can’t or won’t provide that, then the government will find an organisation to distribute kohanga reo funds that can.



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