Editorial: Transparency vital with taxpayer cash

Last updated 05:00 08/04/2010

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Unacceptable. There is no other word for the situation that police claim has developed with Waikanae's Te Runanga O Te Ati Awa Ki Whakarongotai, its health-provider arm Hora Te Pai and Capital & Coast District Health Board.

OPINION: Stripped to its essentials, the police allege that money that was meant to be spent improving health has been siphoned off into other areas.

Regardless of the final outcome of the police inquiries, that is no way to manage $590,000 of taxpayers' money. It is public money, and the handling of it should be transparent, with the details of where it is or what it has been spent on readily available.

There should be no need to wait, as one of those involved put it, until an accountant has "all the right information in the right boxes".

What is alleged to have happened to some of the money causes shudders. It beggars belief why anyone would have thought that money meant to promote health should have been used to start up a cafe and art gallery.

Equally perplexing is the attitude of CCDHB Maori health development accountability manager Jim Wiki, who, according to the police report, says the board will not be making a complaint because he believes the failings were due to naivety and a lack of ability.

That is no sort of accountability. It is the financial equivalent of telling a patient who has had a pair of forceps left in him that if the surgeon has a lack of ability it is an outcome that should be accepted, and that worries are groundless because the forceps can be retrieved.

Mr Wiki's job is to ensure taxpayers get value for the money the CCDHB is spending, and patients get the services that money was meant to buy, not to provide excuses for the alleged failures of others.

The episode raises valid questions as to whether the devolution of millions of dollars of health and welfare funding from the state to community agencies sought by the Maori Party under the Whanau Ora proposal should be pursued.

It suggests that whatever the theoretical benefits of the proposal, the practical ability to administer funds and deliver services will be lacking in many cases.

Before the questions over the Kapiti runanga funding, there was the debacle surrounding the now suspended Tekau Plus project. The project was run by Fomana Capital, the business network of the Federation of Maori Authorities. It received nearly $1.2m of taxpayers' money, despite vague descriptions of the services it provided, what the money was spent on, or what work was done.

Both episodes prove there is a need for extreme caution and close oversight if the spending of public money is handed over to outside organisations.

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There will be those who believe that criticism of the runanga's management of CCDHB funding is an attack on Maori. It is not. Neither the taxpayers who provide the money, nor Maori who should be receiving the services, benefit from there being little transparency and less accountability for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

- The Dominion Post

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