Oct 15, 2013

How not to manage a crisis: why the Kohanga Board must resign

The first Kohanga Reo with Sir Eddie Durie and Paul Temm QC

Consider this: in 2012 the Waitangi Tribunal held that the government must provide "funding for property maintenance and upgrades to avoid the exposing 3,000 mokopuna to the possibility of losing their kohanga reo buildings". The head of Te Taura Whiri, Glenis Philip-Barbara, says that Kohanga are running "on the sniff of an oily rag". According to Native Affairs the number of kohanga have gone from over 800 at the movement's peak to a little over 400 today.

And compare that against this: in 2011 Lynda Tawhiwhirangi purchased a wedding dress for her daughter and in 2012 she purchased a Trelise Cooper dress. Tawhiwhirangi also purchased "a 21st present for a woman who was in a relationship with one of [her] son's and had carried out work experience at the trust" Over a number of years withdrawals were made that included $1000 for a hui that wasn't attended. Native also revealed that "$129,000 [was] given out by the trust in koha... that wasn't receipted or tracked". All the while the whanau at the coal face went and are going without.

This is a breach of trust and a breach of ethics. Public money demands a greater standard of care. In the last financial year the trust received $80m in taxpayer funding. The Prime Minister told Firstline that "this is taxpayers' money. It needs to be spent appropriately and if it's inappropriate behaviour then they'll have the book thrown at them." And he's in the right. Public money demands public accountability.

But the aspect that grates is that while Lynda Tawhiwhirangi and Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi were using their trust credit cards for excessive and luxurious spending - the whanau at the flaxroot were going without. There's also an element of hypocrisy: the kohanga themselves have to follow strict accounting practices, but the same doesn't seem to be expected of some trustees and directors.

But to be fair most of the money was eventually paid back. Most. It's important not to lose sight of that in the heat. Dame Iritana is a titan of the movement too. A laspe of judgement can be forgiven. But is anyone else uncomfortable in that a pattern appears to have emerged?

The crisis provides a useful case study in what not to do when the temperature is up. Don't take defamation proceedings. That turned the anticipation-dial hot and gave the story legs of its own. Don't go to ground. That means speculation will run rife. Apologise - the issue might be cooled. If not, resign. The media and the public need a get. But on a moral level, an honour code demands a resignation.

I worry that if an independent investigation uncovers more inappropriate spending then that is an invitation for non-Maori to sort the issue. The solution will be (I imagine) greater integration with the Ministry of Education and early childhood education. I don't think that's the right approach. The trend is towards devolution (Whanau Ora, Charter Schools etc) rather than reintegration. An independent Maori organisation is better equipped to deal with Maori education. Centralised and state-led Maori education failed in the 20th century.

But the New Public Management Model created the beast. Devolving public functions to a myriad of semi-private organisations was a mistake. Devolution is justified on efficiency grounds, but many aspects of public accountability are lost. The government can also wash its hands of responsibility. The trust isn't part of the core public service nor even the wider public service.

The trust has to sort itself. If it doesn't, others will. The best way to sort itself out? Resign. Hold an election. The worst option is if the government is forced to intervene and break up the Kohanga board and remake the structure. There'll be all sorts of collateral damage in that possibility.


  1. I watched Tony Waho on Firstline this morning insisting the putea was "paid back".

    For some reason he doesn't seem to comprehend that the principle that applies here is taxpayer money is given for a specific purpose - in this case, to nurture the development of te reo me ona tikanga maori amongst tamariki.

    To use that $ for anything other than that, in any other organization would have people screaming THEFT!!

    What really irks me though is using tikanga like koha and mana to justify that behaviour. There are enough forces outside te ao maori pushing and pulling at our tikanga. We don't need it being attacked and undermined from the inside.

    One more thing. A huge bouquet and major mihinui to Native Affairs and Maori Television for their courage under fire. Using sound, quality journalism they've just raised the bar for all Maori media (and all NZ media for that matter) on how to investigate a story involving large tax funded institutions. Other Maori organisations around the motu better get their accountability skates on.


  2. the sad thing is about all this, while people are filling their pockets with the money provided for our tamariki to nuture them, our tikanga, our kawa and our reo, the kaupapa of Kohanga is being lost. MANAGEMENT(aroha mai) you need to get it togtether and listen to those of us at the chalk face in front of our mokopuna.

  3. This incident has given more fuel to the fire for right-wing anti-Maori groups like 'OneLaw4all' and Don Brash. The only 'good' that has come from this corruption is that Maori journalism has stood for justice and ethics. Native Affairs did a great job at showing no bias towards the Kohanga Trust. It is time for the people put in places of power to actually put the interests of our tamariki 1st. #NoMoreCorruption

  4. As has been said on Te Kaea tonight, let those who leave, leave with thanks and dignity. The kaupapa of TKR is always going to be much bigger than those who manage the organisation. Maybe this would be an appropriate time for the board to take a good look at how this could have been allowed to happen in the first place. A good, long, hard, honest look.

  5. This whole episode has the potential to blow the kaupapa of Kohanga Reo and language revitalization out of the water. It plays into the hands of those who have been sceptical of the amount of money that goes into this kaupapa. It really is a case of sloppy accounting practices and individuals who seemed to have a bad case of entitle-itis. This thing needs to be a warning to all other organisations to ensure that their credit card spending will sustain scrutiny.. There have been many exposures of this type of behaviour in the public and parliamentary sector over the last few years, but this one has a different feel about it and I think it will spell the end of Dame Iritana in the Kohanga Reo movement. We should remember her for all the work she has done to promote the preservation of te reo, but I'm afraid that she will be remembered by most New Zealanders for this credit card fiasco. The moral of the story is to always have a receipt and never ever use a corporate credit card for something personal - if in doubt, get a receipt and get reimbursed.

  6. I watched Te Tepu last night on Maori TV. The esteemed guests seemed to be implying that the corruption which has occurred is tikanga and should have been kept secret, in house, that the more important issue was te reo! I hope I misunderstood them. Perhaps someone else who watched the programme would care to comment?
    If they did indeed actually think that it is all tikanga, that would seem to imply that our tipuna had no moral code that they lived their lives by and that's clearly not true. I think our tipuna would be appalled at the use of words such as tikanga to describe what's gone on.


  7. I hope we can get rid of the lot of them



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