Kohanga reo trustees 'must be accountable'

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 05:00 27/03/2014

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Kohanga reo leaders should step aside if inquiries into alleged misspending reveal a lack of action to address the concerns, community members say.

Three inquiries are currently under way into allegations of misspending by officials at the Kohanga Reo National Trust's commercial subsidiary Te Pataka Ohanga (TPO), including one by the Serious Fraud Office.

Willie Te Aho, the lead negotiator for Te Aitanga a Mahaki in Gisborne and an adviser to iwi groups, said he fully supported the kohanga reo leaders but if the inquiries found they had failed to address the allegations appropriately then they would have to go.

"Ultimately the buck does stop with these trustees and so if the trustees didn't have the capacity to deal with or analyse or seek further information on some of these complex commercial issues then they have to be held accountable for that."

It was time to look at restructuring the trust, and specifically at the role of TPO, he said.

"Certainly the current structure has to go . . . the fact that activities can be carried out that bring the whole of the movement into disrepute means that we've got to put that entity to sleep."

The board had handled the matter poorly and should have "put their books up for scrutiny and explained matters in a better way than they did".

Trust spokesman Derek Fox said trustees had done all they could to address the allegations.

As soon as they were raised, trustees had called in an external investigator who found alleged irregularities in credit card spending which led to the sacking of a staff member.

The trust board had also instructed TPO to bring in independent auditors, leading to the current KPMG audit, which was ongoing, as were the SFO and Department of Internal Affairs investigations.

He did not know when they would be finished.

From what he had seen, there was no evidence of fraud serious enough to warrant the SFO investigation, he said.

Nor was there a need for more transparency from the trust, in spite of calls from prominent Maori leaders.

"There's nothing wrong with the loans or the koha."

Meanwhile, King Tuheitia has released a statement saying change for Te Kohanga Reo was "inevitable".

A hui he has called next month would give the community an opportunity to discuss concerns and changes.

"The movement must maintain control over its own destiny," he said.

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- The Dominion Post

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