OPINION: Maori children are living in damp houses and leaving school without the skills needed to get jobs. Meantime, funding from the Maori Party's flagship Whanau Ora programme is being used by Dunedin gang members to buy drugs.
Whanau Ora Minister Tariana Turia has some explaining to do. This is not how she said Whanau Ora would work when she unveiled her revolutionary plan to tackle entrenched Maori disadvantage by transferring responsibility for the delivery of services to Maori from government agencies to Maori providers.
Critical to the experiment, was measurement of outcomes. However, a just-released evaluation of Whanau Ora's "integration, innovation and engagement" fund indicates that Te Puni Kokiri has no way of knowing whether the $12.6 million distributed through the fund so far has made a lasting difference.
There is some anecdotal evidence of individual whanau benefiting, but no empirical evidence to support those conclusions.
There is, however, incontrovertible evidence that the scheme has been abused and laxly administered.
On Wednesday, Korrey Teeati Cook, 36, a member of the Mongrel Mob Notorious gang, was jailed for four years after pleading guilty in the Dunedin District Court to charges of dishonestly converting money given to an anti-violence trust, conspiring with others to sell cannabis and possessing cannabis for supply.
The We Against Violence Trust, operated by Cook and three others, received $51,750 of Whanau Ora funding from Te Puni Kokiri and another $5000 of health funding, the court heard.
Cook and others transferred $20,000 from the trust account to personal bank accounts and then used the money to buy cannabis. Calls intercepted by police suggest authorities have reason to be concerned about the fate of other Whanau Ora funding. Cook was advised how to access the funding by senior gang members in other parts of the country and was himself mentoring other local gangs on how to obtain grants.
Mrs Turia's scheme rectifies a fundamental flaw in the old way of delivering services to Maori. Too often government agencies failed to take account of the Maori dimension when dealing with Maori issues.
However, just as it is a mistake to ignore the Maori dimension, so it is a mistake to assume Maori providers can do no wrong.
The Dunedin case demonstrates that is not the case. Maori are just as capable of erring as non-Maori.
The critical issue for policy makers should not be the ethnicity of service providers, but their capability. A Maori focus may well improve outcomes, but if governments want to contact out services to outside providers, they must ensure monitoring and evaluating mechanisms are in place before projects begin.
That has not been the case with Whanau Ora. The Government has no means of assessing whether taxpayers are getting value for money.
As a result, money that could have been used to improve Maori education and housing and employment prospects has instead gone up in smoke.
- The Dominion Post