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.