Iwi loses most of Treaty payout

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 05:00 17/04/2012

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One of Taranaki's largest private investment projects has gone horribly wrong, losing close to $20 million in a series of high-risk financial ventures.

The loss means Taranaki's most northern iwi, Ngati Tama, has shed all of a $14.5m Treaty of Waitangi payout it received in 2003.

Shocked iwi members learned of the financial disaster at a hui at Pukearuhe Marae this weekend.

Yesterday Ngati Tama kaumatua Wiremu Matuku opened the iwi's books in front of the Taranaki Daily News in what they said would be the only time they would speak to the news media over the issue.

"And unfortunately for Ngati Tama's estimated 5000 members, what they read in your newspaper will be the first time they will hear of this terrible news," said an emotional Mr Matuku, 76, of New Plymouth.

"Our tribe is devastated, not only by the news, but also by the realisation that once it becomes public Ngati Tama will be battered by speculation over why various investments went so bad.

"We are going to have to carry a heavy burden of shame and accusation."

The weekend's hui, which was attended by about 200 people, was given full details of a disastrous string of investments by a seven-member Ngati Tama Development Trust, of which prominent iwi member Greg White was chief executive.

The biggest single investment was more than $12.5m with Australian-based computer software company My Virtual Home Ltd.

The company is in liquidation and with no assets.

Other major investments included $4.39m with Tu Ere Fishing Ltd which is now likely to offer only a very minimal return, and $1.19m with property investment company Open Group Ltd which now has no current estimated value.

All told, the trust has made various investments totalling more than $19.8m – and the weekend's hui was told that at best, the tribe might recoup $1.5m.

Mr White and two other members of the trust had resigned.

Ngati Tama has formed an advisory panel chaired by Hamilton consultant Richard Batley, who is of Ngati Tama descent and also chairman of Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

Other prominent people on the panel include New Plymouth accountant Robin Brockie, and Dion Tuuta, the chair of neighbouring iwi Ngati Mutunga.

The panel has been given wide-ranging powers to take control of the tribe's finances and to further investigate the state of the investments and iwi finances.

In a statement, Mr Batley said Ngati Tama had moved to stop any further losses.

"The people have made some tough calls and they have approved and implemented a plan of recovery.

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"There remain around $1.5m in tribal assets that provide some certainty for the people moving forward. The priority is to ensure all issues are resolved and capped for the new trustees who will be elected in coming elections," he said.

However, despite the immediate action halting the financial bleeding, kaumatua Mr Matuku remained an emotional man as he forced himself to talk to the Taranaki Daily News yesterday.

"We are devastated by the news.

"We are a people who have experienced significant hurt and loss, and the [Treaty] settlement was to provide some compensation for the massive losses of our ancestors and ones which persist today," he said.

"We were left landless in our own tribal lands – and now we must endure loss again."

But Ngati Tama was a resilient tribe with a proud heritage, and would rebuild, he added.

"We understand that we may be an example for other iwi that they must not follow our commercial path.

"If there is some good that can come from this terrible situation, then so be it."

IWI NUMBERS POINTER TO RISKY INVESTMENTS

Sheer membership numbers of Ngati Tama iwi in relation to the 2003 Treaty of Waitangi settlement may be the reason why the tribe's development trust made such high-risk investments, the Taranaki Daily News has been told.

The 2003 settlement with the Crown totalled $14.5 million, which if conservatively invested may have generated about $870,000 a year.

If half of that income had been invested to grow the iwi's asset base, that would have left about $435,000 per year to help fund marae costs, governance fees, management and administration, education and marae and kaumatua grants.

And if there were no administration costs and the annual income had been distributed among the iwi's 5000 members, at best this would have amounted to $87 per tribal member per year.

With that as background, the development trust may have chosen instead to attempt to increase the rate of return by making the high-risk investments.

- Taranaki Daily News

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