Will Key forgive this breathtaking disaster?

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 20/03/2014

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OPINION: How long before Prime Minister John Key decides Hekia Parata is a liability in Cabinet?

The only saving grace in the kohanga reo debacle has been Key's calculated decision to leave chief of staff Wayne Eagleson behind while he is on a 10-day trip to China and Europe.

The decision to refer allegations of misspending by a kohanga reo-related company to the Serious Fraud Office - less than 12 hours after Parata assured the "taxpayers of New Zealand" that there had been no impropriety - looked like something that had Eagleson's fingerprints on it.

Her handling of the affair has been a breathtaking disaster.

During a press conference on Tuesday night Parata blustered and bullied her way through questions about her assurance that none of the $92 million in public funding allocated to the Kohanga Reo National Trust, or paid to its subsidiary, Te Pataka Ohanga, had been misspent.

After giving reporters 10 minutes to read the report by accountants Ernst & Young, Parata announced: "I am satisfied that public moneys are being expended in the appropriate way."

When it was eventually pointed out to her that none of the spending relating to wedding dresses or Trelise Cooper outfits had been addressed by the report, she triumphantly told reporters that these matters were never included in the terms of reference.

She insisted, meanwhile, that there were no instances of the subsidiary receiving public money.

It took a Kohanga Reo National Trust board member to eventually confirm that kohanga reo got money from the Ministry of Education and the subsidiary got its money from kohanga reo.

Parata's logic appears to suggest that any agency can use a standalone company to avoid accountability for taxpayer funds.

That a board member blew the whistle on so-far-unsubstantiated allegations so soon afterwards suggests it was not just Parata's colleagues who were left alarmed about where things were headed.

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- The Dominion Post

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