Stop political slurs, pleads refuge

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 12:00 03/07/2012

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A Palmerston North Maori women's refuge being investigated for financial mismanagement has pleaded for politicians to stop using it as a "political football".

Te Roopu Whakaruruhau o Nga Wahine Maori collective has blasted NZ First leader Winston Peters after he highlighted an auditor's report that had "fraud" as a subheading.

Collective spokeswoman Julie Tukariri acknowledged there were issues that needed serious attention at the Palmerston North-based refuge but said the audit had found no fraud and it was disappointing to find the organisation a target in Parliament.

"We are absolutely disappointed that politicians would use us as a political football," she said. "We are also saddened that minister [Tariana] Turia has been implicated by other politicians when in fact she had nothing to do with the issues."

Ms Tukariri said the collective of Maori women's refuges supported Mrs Turia, the Associate Minister for Social Development.

Mrs Turia had claimed she did not know about the extent of the refuge's financial strife and asked officials to explain their failure to notify her. However, a letter released by the Green Party last week lent weight to claims she would have heard of the problems at a meeting in April. She has declined to comment further.

Te Roopu Whakaruruhau o Nga Wahine Maori spokeswoman Annette Tinirau said the Palmerston North branch was still operating fully, servicing a large area from the Kapiti Coast to Feilding and Dannevirke. Staff who had been on the payroll had worked voluntarily since funding was frozen after the auditor's report.

Ms Tinirau said the refuge in question had been receiving support from its Hamilton counterpart and now had its sights on meeting a six-week deadline to review services and provide evidence of remedial funding after the loss of $109,000. She said staff felt confident the refuge would not have to close its doors, and had received donations from the community to keep services afloat.

The report revealed by Mr Peters last week said the refuge had made unauthorised transactions, including payments of bonuses and annual leave above entitlement, and payments of personal costs such as fines. It had also been paying its GST in arrears after several years of non-payment, racking up bills of $75,000 in taxes to Inland Revenue.

He slammed the Government for its apparent failure to make background checks before allocating money to the refuge.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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