Kohanga trust lashes out after contract lost
The Kohanga Reo National Trust has angrily hit back at the Government's decision not to renew a $2.5 million contract, rejecting accusations that it has failed to address concerns over misspending.
Education Minister Hekia Parata and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples have written to the trust board, criticising it for failing to front up in the allegations and demanding changes to the way the kohanga reo movement is governed.
The trust has been under fire following allegations of misspending by its commercial arm Te Pataka Ohanga, which saw one staff member sacked and led to several inquiries. The allegations were that a TPO credit card was used to buy a wedding dress and a Trelise Cooper outfit, among other spending.
In a letter to the board, the ministers said they had become "increasingly concerned with the serious criticisms raised about the effectiveness, responsiveness and transparency of the trust board".
". . . we remain concerned that the trust board has not publicly, expeditiously and adequately addressed the allegations of misuse of money.
"As a wholly owned subsidiary of the trust, with shared directors, it is reasonable to expect that the board should have explained these matters publicly. Instead the Government has had no choice but to refer the matter to other agencies to get accountability."
The ministers called for an end to lifetime appointment to the board, for board representation to be more democratic and for the board to be "open to scrutiny in all respects and is publicly auditable".
TPO was also "no longer tenable" and new arrangements needed to be made "to improve transparency over support to kohanga reo".
The ministers said they would not be renewing the $2.56m annual contract, which pays for the operation of the trust, once it expires on June 30, though a new arrangement would be looked into.
The trust was not providing adequate support to kohanga reo, the ministers said.
But trust spokesman Derek Fox angrily rejected the criticism.
"It's pretty disappointing, I suppose, in that the matters she refers to and the matters she referred to the Serious Fraud Office are matters that have all been dealt with by the board," he said.
The Ernst & Young report ordered after the original allegations showed there was no misuse of public money, though it did not address allegations of misspending at TPO, which Fox maintained is a private company.
"She [Parata] welcomed that report and expressed satisfaction with it so I'm not sure why she continues to write letters saying that these matters haven't been dealt with."
The board had also addressed the allegations of misspending, commissioning an inquiry which led to the sacking of the person at the centre of the allegations.
Fox asked what accountability were critics seeking. "What are they really looking for . . . hangings, or would they like heads on pikes?"
All the ministers' letter did was "create more uncertainty" in the kohanga movement ahead of the hui this weekend at Turangawaewae Marae, where changes to the trust and the way it operates would be addressed, he said.
"This looks like huge interference from the Government in the kohanga reo movement, it looks like a power struggle, that the Government seems to want to control the kohanga reo movement."