Mar 20, 2014

Wrong questions, wrong answers: the rot in the Kohanga Reo

Who's the Kohanga serving? h/t Te Ara.

And the unfortunate becomes the farcical:

The Serious Fraud Office has been asked to investigate allegations of misspending by the commercial arm of kohanga reo, less than 25 hours after Education Minister Hekia Parata put her credibility on the line by promising taxpayers there had been no impropriety.
In a humiliating U-turn yesterday, Parata and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples announced the SFO had been asked to investigate after a trustee from the Kohanga Reo National Trust passed on "fresh allegations" of misspending involving subsidiary Te Pataka Ohanga (TPO). 
The development followed a shambolic press conference late on Tuesday evening in which Parata said she was satisfied no public money had been spent inappropriately, despite allegations that TPO general manager Lynda Tawhiwhirangi used her work credit card to buy a wedding dress, an $800 Trelise Cooper dress, a 21st birthday gift, and make a $1000 cash withdrawal as koha for a tangi she did not attend

What makes the issue more bizarre is that EY wasn’t instructed or empowered to investigate the original claims. The Dominion Post details some of the claims in the paragraph above, but others were omitted. For example, why did Te Pataka Ohanga give low interest loans to Kohanga Reo board members?
 Parata and Sharples insisted that the Kohanga Reo National Trust purchases services from Te Pataka Ohanga – a subsidiary of the trust. The argument goes something like this: the relationship between the trust and its subsidiary is private and cannot warrant public scrutiny. But that reasoning is artificial. 
The trust and their supporters can create academic distinctions, but it doesn’t change the nature of the trust and its operations. The trust might fall outside of the core public service, but it’s performing a public function. Public organisations must be subject to public scrutiny. 
That seems obvious and it leads to a series of questions:
  • Why was EY not permitted to investigate the original claims? When the story broke the Prime Minister offered assurances that if there was “inappropriate behaviour” then persons concerned would “have the book thrown at them”. The review appeared to sidestep the “inappropriate behaviour” and “the book” seems to be a referral. The Auditor-General was probably the better investigator; 
  • Also, what new information prompted the referral to the Serious Fraud Office and the Department of Internal Affairs? It seems more likely that the Prime Minister’s office prompted the referral. The issue threatened coverage of Key’s trip to China and might’ve damaged the government’s credibility. There’s no reason for a National government to die in a ditch over a Maori organisation; 
  • 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.  
The behaviour of the board and its subsidiary has been dreadful. Perhaps it’s the predictable effect of lifetime appointments. But I think it goes deeper. There’s a rot in Maori governance. From poor governance at Maori TV to the Kohanga Reo board, Maori aren’t being served. 
Would a rational and skilled board re-attempt to appoint Paora Maxwell after the staff revolt? Clearly the board didn’t consider rudimentary factors like workplace culture and staff satisfaction. Would a rational and skilled board sanction a $50,000 koha to a board member? That’s more than triple the median income for Maori. I’ll tell you what kind of board would – one that isn't fit for the job.

Mar 17, 2014

The cycles of Maori politics

I’m going to make the call: all things remaining the same, the incumbents in the Maori electorates will retain their seats. Here’s how it’s looking.
Te Tai Tokerau
Labour: Kelvin Davis
Mana: Hone Harawira

Tamaki Makaurau

Labour: Shane Taurima (probably)
Mana: tbc.
Maori Party: possible candidates include Bronwyn Yates, George Ngatai, Te Hira Paenga and Tūnuiarangi McLean. The selection hui is scheduled in May.


Labour: Nanaia Mahuta


Labour: the candidates are Katie Paul, Ryan Te Wara and Rawiri Waititi.
Mana: tbc (at the AGM I believe between 11-13 April)
Maori Party: Te Ururoa Flavell

Te Tai Hauauru

Greens: Jack Tautokai McDonald
Labour: Adrian Rurawhe
Maori Party: Chris McKenzie


Labour: Meka Whaitiri
Mana: Te Hamua Nikora

Te Tai Tonga
Greens: Dora Langsbury
Labour: Rino Tirikatene

Labour has a clear run in Hauraki-Waikato and Te Tai Tonga. There are few - if any - viable challengers. Mana and the Maori Party have missed the window of opportunity and it seems that Tamaki will fall Labour's way while Ikaroa looks increasingly safe. Te Ururoa and Hone appear safe too. Te Tai Hauauru is the great uncertainty.

Labour, Mana and the Maori Party can't hope to run viable campaigns in the seats they haven't selected candidates in. The election is six months away and the window of opportunity has passed. At this point, any campaign against the incumbent is nominal. Maori politics is relationship based and its difficult to build a political relationship with the electorate with only six months on the clock. That's leaving aside the other, more practical issues, like campaign personnel and strategy.

But the bigger picture is important too: conflict characterised the last decade in Maori politics. Think of Closing the Gaps, Orewa and the Foreshore and Seabed Act. The cruel irony is that the Maori Party has resolved much of that conflict - Whanau Ora has replaced Closing the Gaps, National has abandoned its Maori bashing tactics and the Foreshore and Seabed Act has been repealed and replaced - yet Labour will be the beneficiary.

That's terribly unfair. But while stability returns to Maori politics, the Maori electorates appear to be reverting to type: Labour-led. Maori politics runs through cycles of uncertainty. When uncertainty and instability arises the Maori electorates turn against Labour. It almost happened with Matiu Rata while it actually happened in the 90s with New Zealand First and the 2000s with the Maori Party. The Young Maori Party was born amidst uncertainty and low confidence among Maori, but when certainty and confidence returned Labour and Ratana swept the Maori seats.

There was a window of opportunity when Mana and the Maori Party might have challenged that cycle. But I think that window has passed. The best they can hope to do is retain what they have.