Kohanga Reo funding probe starts

Last updated 08:45 22/10/2013

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An inquiry into the public funding of Kohanga Reo is underway, following allegations one of its managers misused credit cards to purchase personal items, including a wedding dress and made large cash withdrawals.

Last week, Maori TV's Native Affairs programme aired allegations that public funds were misused by Lynda Tawhiwhirangi, the general manager of the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust's commercial arm Te Pataka Ohanga (TPO).

The trust sought a court injunction to stop the programme going to air, but failed.

The spending on the wedding dress, along with a number of other purchases, is now the subject of an urgent independent audit commissioned by the Ministry of Education.

As well as the wedding dress, spending allegedly included the purchase of a Trelise Cooper dress, a 21st birthday present for a woman who was in a relationship with one of her sons and had carried out work experience at the trust, and a $1000 cash withdrawal from a BP station as koha for a tangi which she did not attend.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she was pleased the review was moving forward with urgency.

The review will establish how much public funds, if any, are provided by the national trust to TPO, and whether there are any gaps in financial control.

It will make recommendations on any improvements in financial controls to the Board and the Crown.

Parata said she expected the review to be complete by mid-December.

She said it was important kohanga reo parents and whanau did not consider it a review of them. 

"I am concerned for the standing of the 470 kohanga, with over 9000 children, served by over 1000 kaiako, and supported by whanau up and down the country. 

"We must ensure that they are kept informed, and that damaging allegations are contained, and dealt with swiftly and appropriately, for the protection of those who are innocent."

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said the allegations could be damaging to the work the trust was doing.

"Most kohanga reo are working tirelessly to advance their children's interests, and they do best when parents and whanau are actively involved," he said.

"They shouldn't be made to feel whakama [shame or embarrassment] about the actions of a few."

Work on a Treaty claim by the Kohanga Trust has been placed on hold while the inquiry is being carried out.

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