Small agency big on consultants

Last updated 07:51 11/09/2012

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With fewer than 20 staff and an annual budget a little over $5 million, the Maori Language Commission is small even by New Zealand's public sector standards.

Yet, in recent years, the organisation has spent more than $4m paying external consultants.

Questions were raised about the commission after it was revealed current chief executive Glenis Philip-Barbara and former boss Huhana Rokx had repaid taxpayer money used for personal purchases.

Several board members were also overpaid a total of $124,000 over five years after relying on what the commission said was mistaken advice from Crown monitoring agencies.

Now The Dominion Post can reveal the total cost of external consultants almost quadrupled in recent years.

The commission spent $2.06m on outside help in the 2010-11 financial year and $2.5m the year before that.

Ms Philip-Barbara said the commission took over responsibility for managing the He Kainga Korerorero and Maori language regeneration project contracts in 2009-10.

This home-based Maori language mentoring and planning programme was worth $1.525m a year and the commission contracted an education trust to deliver it, she said.

The language-regeneration contract was a one-off 12-month contract worth $1m.

"The action research element included the delivery of five local pilot projects. In addition, the project included a literature review and a national survey."

But Labour MP Chris Hipkins believed the commission should be able to do many of the jobs it was outsourcing.

"Spending a lot of money on lawyers and communication advice, you've kind of got to ask the question about whether they've got their priorities right.

"And $2m out of a $5m budget on consultants and contractors is very, very difficult to justify for a small agency like that."

Among recent contracts was $114,513 paid to Chen Palmer law firm for a review of the Maori Language Act, select committee documents show. Mr Hipkins thought that was something "they should be able to do for themselves".

"And, if they're not, then serious questions need to be asked about what on earth that agency's actually doing."

Te Ataarangi Trust was awarded the bulk of the 2010-11 and 2009-10 budgets and was paid $1.5m in each financial year for providing Maori language education.

In March this year, commission chairman Erima Henare said the agency had not had a funding increase in five years and the baseline budget was a "difficult issue".

Related story: Consultants cost agencies millions

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- The Dominion Post

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