Key swipes at kohanga reo press ban

Last updated 18:31 14/04/2014

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Prime Minister John Key has taken a swipe at kohanga reo leaders after they banned the journalists who broke a story about allegations of misspending from attending a press conference.

About 1200 representatives from the country's 496 kohanga reo met at the weekend to discuss the future of the movement

It has been alleged officials at the Kohanga Reo National Trust's commercial arm, Te Pataka Ohanga, used company credit cards for personal spending.

Leaders held a press conference yesterday to discuss the proposed changes to the governance structure, but banned Maori TV's Native Affairs, which broke the story, from attending.

Trust members refused to answer questions about why the journalists were barred, saying they would decide who they spoke to.

Key criticised the move, saying the widely criticised ban was "not a sensible thing to do".

"My view: they receive a considerable amount of government funding and they should be held to account and scrutiny like any other agency that receives money," Key said.

He denied claims by the trust that the Government was intruding on the independent kohanga movement.

Questions relating to the spending still needed to be addressed, Key said.

The trust said a letter from the Government outlining the changes it expected the trust to make and setting a deadline for a resolution at the risk of losing the right to dispense government funding was an unwelcome "intrusion".

At least three inquiries are under way, including by the Department of Internal Affairs, while the Serious Fraud Office is considering whether or not there is enough evidence for it to launch an investigation.

"That's the appropriate thing and they should determine, whether there's some sort of inappropriate behaviour or not," Key said.

An Ernst and Young investigation has already cleared trust officials of misspending, but did not look into the original allegations.

Key said negotiations over the kohanga's Treaty of Waitangi claim – regarding a lack of Government support for the movement – should be put off until a satisfactory conclusion was reached.

"Our view is that they have to be accountable and responsible for the government funding that they received and we have made it clear and will be continuing to make it clear what our expectations are."

The trust receives about $92 million a year in government funding.

The press conference yesterday was the first time kohanga founder Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi has publicly discussed the allegations.

Tawhiwhirangi said the allegations were "unfounded at the moment" and maintained the spending had been legitimate.

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- Fairfax Media

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