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.


  1. You appear to be using the 2002 census for your median income figure

  2. Thanks. I'll track down the most recent.

  3. In 2013, the median income for all Māori aged 15 years and over was $22,500.

  4. It's bizarre alright. A form of defacto nepotism that the Establishment deems acceptable or simply the fact that whanaungatanga struggles with democratic accountability? Who knows? But it's definitely causing upheaval. Certainly some reform of trustee / director boards is needed. In the case of TKR that lifetime membership must go. And that commercial arm - aren't the directors there on the TKR board too? Not sure about the MTS board but clearly Te Heuheu should have stepped aside to avoid a conflict of interest. Hopefully some positive change will come out of this. Too much of the future is at stake.


  5. And the biggest problem is that all this business takes the gloss off what has been a brilliant educational initiative that has helped to improve Maori educational outcomes and revive te reo. If the funding for Kohanga Reo is diminished as a result of this affair then those who are trustees have effectively destroyed something that they were put in place to nurture. That's not very good kaitiakitanga in my book

  6. I feel for all those individual kohanga who have struggled to stay afloat while being forced to accept financial responsibility for a lot of crazy schemes thrust on them by head office down the years. The whole process where public putea ends up in a money - making body looks like a massive rort.



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