Chairwoman defends Te Rapuora Trust

The chairwoman of the defunct Te Rapuora Trust yesterday denied the organisation was in financial difficulties or mismanaged by its board, despite it being put into liquidation and audit reports calling it "dysfunctional".

Margaret Bond also defended the trust's decision to lease space at its Blenheim premises rent-free to her son, James Skipper, to open a boxing gym. Te Rapuora clients received services from the gym and it also provided services at little or no cost to youth at risk, Ms Bond said.

She rejected any implication of wrongdoing by herself or her son, as reported in the Nelson Mail on Saturday. She said whenever board discussions involved family members, she had declared an interest and stood aside.

"Due to the condition of the area, leasing was never considered by the past two managers. This was only brought to the board's attention in November last year as an option due to the current financial situation."

She added that other groups used the Te Rapuora building on Grove Rd every week free of charge.

The audits of the trust's finances and management, carried out in October and November by the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board and the Ministry of Health, were released under the Official Information Act.

In a statement, Ms Bond rejected the allegations the audits contained. "The organisation was not in financial difficulties and would have continued but for the decision of the health board to no longer provide funding."

However, the financial audit estimated that, even without paying off its debts, Te Rapuora would likely be insolvent by the end of June this year. It stated the Maori health provider was overpaid more than $150,000 by the health board for staff positions that were either not filled in time or were under-resourced.

Ms Bond said those "overpayments" by the health board were a misunderstanding of staffing requirements in the funding agreement with the health board. "The audit report brought this to the attention of the [Te Rapuora] board, which up until then was not known by the board or the manager.

"There is nothing dishonest."

The audits also identified eight family members of a Te Rapuora trust member who were employed or had been employed by the organisation or received funding from it. The name of the member was blacked out in the copy given to the Mail.

"As an iwi-based organisation, iwi members were often candidates for employment," Ms Bond said. "With the relatively small numbers of iwi members in the district, it is inevitable that family members of board members would apply for jobs. If the candidate was related to me, I always declared my interest and stood aside."

The audits also found three vehicles bought in February last year were purchased without proper authority and that the trust was also liable to repay $32,000 to the ministry for not meeting funding agreement obligations.

The purchase of the cars was not unauthorised, Ms Bond said. "It was a decision of the then manager with the knowledge of the board," she said. "The issue was that the board had not formally approved the purchase, although it was in agreement."

The Nelson Mail