The Dim-Post

March 20, 2014

Big trouble in little nest

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:23 am

Good grief:

The under-fire trust that runs the kohanga reo network is refusing to identify which of its board members got a $50,000 off-the-books koha payment.

The refusal places Education Minister Hekia Parata in a tight spot – her officials have said the person should be identified.

The payment was one of a cluster of issues identified in the EY (Ernst & Young) report into Te Kohanga Reo National Trust. The report did not deal with the allegations which sparked the inquiry – they were ruled out of bounds.

But the $50,000 payment was inside the review’s limited remit and it was identified among a number of credit card and koha rule breaches. The problems were singled out in a briefing note from the Ministry of Education to Ms Parata.

Early childhood education general manager Karl Le Quesne said the trust “was required to disclose this payment in their 2012 annual report”.

Ms Parata’s office did not return calls to say whether she backed her officials’ view.

But the trust’s spokesman, Derek Fox, said the trust would not reveal which of its board members got the payment.

He said it was a payment to a board member who had worked “well above the call of duty” on its successful claim to the Waitangi Tribunal.

“It wasn’t a related party transaction – it was a koha,” said Mr Fox.

If the Trust had a board member who was, say, a senior lawyer who invested a huge amount of time on a Waitangi Tribunal claim then a $50,000 koha doesn’t seem inappropriate. The problem here is there’s no way for the public to know if this was money well earned or the board defrauding the taxpayer. And given everything else that’s been going on at Te Pataka Ohanga we’d be suckers to take Mr Fox’s word that everything is above board. Via the Fairfax gallery office:

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.

Parata said a report commissioned from accountants Ernst & Young had cleared both the trust and Te Pataka Ohanga, but she subsequently admitted they never looked into the allegations surrounding Tawhiwhirangi because that was outside its terms of reference.

She said the Government could not investigate those allegations because TPO received “no public monies” – but by yesterday she had done an about-face and referred the matters to the SFO.

TPO is wholly owned by the trust, which receives $92 million in taxpayer funding annually. TPO’s funding comes from kohanga reo, which uses money paid to it by the Ministry of Education to buy services such as insurance from TPO.

Parata stuck to the line yesterday that TPO was a private company and how it spent its money was not something the Government should be involved in.

I’ve always sort-of wondered if there’s an element of bigotry in all of the criticism directed at Hekia Parata. Is she incompetent? Or does she just attract scrutiny and criticism because she’s a successful Maori woman? Well her handling of the Kohanga Reo trust issue has cleared that up nicely: she is totally incompetent. A political naif hiding behind incomprehensible jargon, just like Fox hides behind the principles of Kaupapa Maori that he’s doing so much damage to.

30 Comments »

  1. I actually think it’s the opposite – the only reason National haven’t cut her loose so far is she fits two minorities they’re seriously lacking in: Maori, and female. I think they’ve been willing to put up with her incompetence because it’s a bad look to lose someone who ticks those boxes, but I don’t think that will last much longer.

    Comment by James W — March 20, 2014 @ 10:45 am

  2. @James Checking minority boxes doesn’t gift you a free Cabinet career and I’m dubious it gives you an extra nanosecond in the job if you’re about to be booted out of it either. Parata and her husband are both big figures in certain circles in terms of support/connections/probably donation-raising. Like most inexplicably long-lasting politicians she has support networks that are disconnected (or at least heavily buffered) from what’s going on in the media. See also: members of the Labour caucus who might be toxic to the wider public but maintain such strong support with the individuals who cook sausage rolls and distribute leaflets in their electorate that they’re unlikely to go anywhere.

    Comment by Gar — March 20, 2014 @ 11:10 am

  3. Being an obedient stuffed shirt brown female willing to doggedly front up to explain insane ACT party policies you clearly don’t understand from behind a thicket of incomprehensible jargon is an underrated skill, and one much valued by the kitchen cabinet of white male plutocrats who actually make all the decisions in National.

    It takes a situation where some sort of political judgement is called for – as in this kohanga reo network scandal – to reveal her incompetence in politically inconvenient way.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 20, 2014 @ 11:16 am

  4. ” to reveal her incompetence in politically inconvenient way”

    nah – all it takes is one media interview, on any political subject, for that to show when its parata.

    Comment by framu — March 20, 2014 @ 11:26 am

  5. I’ve always sort-of wondered if there’s an element of bigotry in all of the criticism directed at Hekia Parata

    You’re one of her biggest critics.🙂

    Comment by Ross — March 20, 2014 @ 11:32 am

  6. If she does something stupid she should be criticised for it and the KR thing certainly looks like a classic clusterfuck that was avoidable by her. However, I do think there is a rather higher degree of schadenfreude in her case for two reasons. She, like Judith Collins, has an obviously high sense of self esteem that does not closely correlate with her behaviour and, secondly, it can be cathartic for some liberals to be able, at last, to condemn a Maori without inhibition. For a very few, things like this bring out some some very weird demons indeed. Of course, for some socialists, this is simply a justification for their own belief that Maori should stick to being chocolate soldiers in the class war. Kohanga Reo, by the way, has been vying for the title of most badly run organisation for a long time. Lack of accountability to either the Crown or Maori is the problem

    Comment by Tinakori — March 20, 2014 @ 12:12 pm

  7. King Kong: are you referring to Metiria Turei (co-leader of the Green Party) or Tariana Turia (Minister of the Crown)? Because if you’re going to be a dick you should at least make sure you pick on the right person.

    Comment by simonpnz — March 20, 2014 @ 12:37 pm

  8. And her senior cabinet colleagues are in the stupid camp too by not overseeing a potential hand grenade, seriously they thought leaving it to Parata was a smart move.

    Comment by David — March 20, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

  9. I had some business dealings with Hekia Parata before she got into politics. This was back in time when she had a role with Housing NZ. I found her to be very competent at that time, very personable, and a woman of high ethical standards. I have had no contact with her since, and I doubt she would remember me, but I find it puzzling that a person who was so credible at that time could attract the flack that she does.
    King Kong, the less said about your comment the better.

    Comment by Pete — March 20, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

  10. “I think they’ve been willing to put up with her incompetence because it’s a bad look to lose someone who ticks those boxes”

    As unaligned as I am with many of the ideologies of our current government, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt that it’s fully capable of appointing and maintaining incompetent Ministers for any number of other, probably more likely reasons.

    Comment by izogi — March 20, 2014 @ 1:22 pm

  11. “For a very few, things like this bring out some some very weird demons indeed.”

    There you go, King Kong, one just for you.

    Comment by Tinakori — March 20, 2014 @ 1:57 pm

  12. “If the Trust had a board member who was, say, a senior lawyer who invested a huge amount of time on a Waitangi Tribunal claim then a $50,000 koha doesn’t seem inappropriate.”

    Am I being thick? I am struggling to imagine how a secret payment of this magnitude to any board member could ever be appropriate. If the hypothetical senior lawyer did work “well above the call of duty” that should be defined, acknowledged and paid for publically through proper contracting procedure. How is making a secret tax free payment for unspecified work any different from slipping cash to a tradesman for off the books work?

    Comment by PPCM — March 20, 2014 @ 2:08 pm

  13. How is making a secret tax free payment for unspecified work any different from slipping cash to a tradesman for off the books work?

    Quite right PPCM.
    Next stop, looking at Housing NZ accounts for 50k plumbing jobs for addresses that dont exist.

    Comment by Gregor W — March 20, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

  14. … just like Fox hides behind the principles of Kaupapa Maori that he’s doing so much damage to.

    He’s not hiding behind it – that’s exactly how it works. We shouldn’t hand over public money for use in this way if we want to be able to tell whether it’s been used corruptly or not.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — March 20, 2014 @ 4:45 pm

  15. I’ve heard there’s another reason John Key admires Hekia Parata. I cannot disclose it as I wouldn’t want to risk defamation.

    Comment by nigelsagentinthefield — March 20, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

  16. What use would a senior lawyer be at the waitangi tribunal. What you need is good revisionist historian that’s not afraid to use a little poetic licence.

    Comment by Swan — March 20, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

  17. “Next stop, looking at Housing NZ accounts for 50k plumbing jobs for addresses that dont exist.”

    Seriously, you need to go back to the last Labour regime for that.

    Oh shit did I say that out loud?

    Comment by Grant — March 20, 2014 @ 9:54 pm

  18. The media coverage around the Collins/Parata affairs are a case study in bias. Whereas Cunliffe was hounded for the better part of two weeks over a fairly trumped up matter with headlines like “Is Labour in crisis?” and treated to hectoring lectures from Audrey Young over not very much, Collins got a bit of bad PR for a couple of days and nice admiring “Collins doesn’t know the word ‘defeat'” headline from John Armstrong. I expect this Parata business will follow a similar arc now John Key has said he is happy with her. Some remarkably docile reporting followed by a puff piece or two about Parata’s remarkable political survival skills, before everyone heaves a sigh of releif and moves back to attacking Labour over the faux pas it made during it’s timber policy announcement because the toothpicks on the table at the lunch that followed were made in China.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 21, 2014 @ 7:06 am

  19. When Cactus Kate says “What the fuck?” then you know you’ve got a problem. This is quite jawdropping and it’s not good for anyone involved. It’s almost certainly a breach of trust and it’s no real surprise it has been referred to the SFO. Heads should roll.

    Money paid to Te Kohanga Reo National Trust has been loaned to senior managers and board members – including a $160,000 loan in which the collateral was a life insurance policy, accounts show. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11223336

    Comment by TerryB — March 21, 2014 @ 8:32 am

  20. To give CK her due credit, she’s always been a vociferous opponent of both business subsidies and graft. I recall her writing a great piece about handouts to Xero a while back.

    Comment by Gregor W — March 21, 2014 @ 9:16 am

  21. Poor Sanctuary.

    Even when his enemies are on the rack, he’s still miffed that the screws haven’t been tightened enough.

    Comment by Flashing Light — March 21, 2014 @ 9:54 am

  22. I was brought up a catholic, that is a religion that thinks there is always room for another turn of the rack where it’s enemies are concerned.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 21, 2014 @ 10:12 am

  23. Yes, every savvy follower of politics knows that, once Cactus Kate decides you’re done, you’re done!

    Comment by kalvarnsen — March 21, 2014 @ 11:54 am

  24. “I was brought up a catholic, that is a religion that thinks there is always room for another turn of the rack where it’s enemies are concerned.”

    “Error has no rights”

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — March 21, 2014 @ 3:15 pm

  25. SFO material? I seriously doubt it.

    Very poor judgement ( a word that appears to have been replaced by “governance, whatever that means.)appears to have been exercised.

    Serious fraud not likely. Utter stupidity? Highly very likely

    Why was the Auditor General not brought in first? AG is independent of ministers, E and Y do what the client wants them to do, for a not inconsiderable fee.

    Hekia pays an exorbitant fee to E and Y to get the conclusion she seeks.

    Unfortunately the answer is not enough.

    Naivety is a possible factor in the kohanga reo structures and the behaviour of some of its members. (greed always lurks).

    Clearly there are serious problems within the kohanga reo organisation.

    This might have electoral impact.

    Oh! This is an electoral year. The SFO are handling the kohanga reo thing therefor it cannot be discussed.

    If anyone has any questions ask derek fox (the wily one).

    Hekia is off the hook.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — March 21, 2014 @ 10:56 pm

  26. Re: Is she incompetent? Or does she just attract scrutiny and criticism because she’s a successful Maori woman?

    I suspect the answer is “both of the above”.

    Comment by Ralph — March 22, 2014 @ 10:05 am

  27. Can we name another successful Maori woman who doesn’t attract similar levels of criticism?

    Comment by kalvarnsen — March 22, 2014 @ 11:06 am

  28. “SFO material? I seriously doubt it.”

    $50k koha to a board member that is almost certainly taxable. $200k of loans to board members. And that’s what we know.

    SFO sounds like the appropriate body for this to me. God knows why Parata didn’t see this straight away.

    Comment by Swan — March 22, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

  29. SFO is meant to have a $2m threshhold. Police below that. Could have been referred to them a long time ago.

    Comment by Sacha — March 22, 2014 @ 8:14 pm

  30. Sacha it is not that simple. The SFO takes on cases based on their significance to the public as well as complexity.

    Given we are talking about an organization that gets $92m of public money a year, there is significant public interest in this.

    I’m not an expert in these matters, but the details appear fairly murky/complex to me. A subsidiary is set up, and it is claimed by the trust to be independent of the trust (even now!). Yet it would appear this subsidiary generates most, if not all, it’s revenue from the trust. (Some questions for TPO. Does it have any other clients? Did it competitively tender for the services it provides to the trust? What is the relationship between the trust board and management and TPOs board and management?). And TPO has “lent” money to multiple trust board members. So this absolutely stinks and it would appear to me to be SFO material. It’s not a simple “accountant skims thousands from employer to fund gambling habit” scenario the police might deal with.

    If the new information is the loans, this to me would be enough to send it to the SFO but there may be more. It could well be bigger than the $2m mark and given the trusts actions since the very start, it wouldn’t surprise me.

    Comment by Swan — March 22, 2014 @ 9:22 pm


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