Editorial: A kohanga reo tale of woe

Last updated 05:00 21/03/2014
Hekia Parata
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ
EDUCATION MINISTER: Hekia Parata.

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OPINION: Remember that scene in Crocodile Dundee when a mugger flashes a blade at our hero, who pulls out a massively larger one and tells him: "That's not a knife - this is a knife"?

It's tempting to project the image on to a couple of National ministers, with Hekia Parata telling Judith Collins: "That's not a screw-up - this is a screw-up."

Ms Collins may have done the Government no favours with with her de facto Oravida benediction but that has been emphatically trumped by Ms Parata's pretty much catastrophic handling of the kohanga reo scandal.

She announced that the Ernst & Young report had cleared the Kohanga Reo National Trust of wrongdoing and that the public could be assured that taxpayer money had been spent appropriately.

Next morning the Government called the Serious Fraud Office to investigate the trust's business arm, Te Pataka Ohanga.

As it simply had to.

Ernst & Young had followed a brief that was ridiculously inadequate.

The company was never in a position to get to the heart of the really serious allegations that surfaced on Maori Television's Native Affairs programme that Te Pataka Ohanga had used business credit cards for all manner of expensive frippery, including designer dresses, accommodation and expensive gifts.

The public will dismiss, with no more contempt than it deserves, Ms Parata's attempts to explain that what the subsidiary does with the money it receives from the trust is not at issue because by that stage it's no longer public money.

Essentially, she was saying that the money taxpayers pay the Government, and which the Government pays to the kohanga reo trust, ceases to be any of the public's business once the trust then hands that money to its business arm, to do with as it will.

We might add that the same line of thinking is all too often presented to the public at local government level. All too often, it's a way to duck accountability.

There has to come a point where public money ceases to be public money but as far as the great majority of New Zealanders are concerned, the transition from taxpayer-funded trust to the trust's own back pocket doesn't get particularly close. Because that money was dispatched to the trust with the agenda that it be used for teaching kids and it didn't get near them.

The whole kohanga reo investigation should have been treated as a serious fraud matter from the outset.

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Much as the initial allegations remain unsubstantiated, the pitch of public suspicion is now greater than ever.

The best the Government can hope for now is that people regard the setup of the investigation as a matter of screaming incompetence rather than sinister deception.

Perhaps, in that respect, Ms Parata's reputation for haplessness might assist.

The defence can be that clearly the investigation wasn't a whitewash because, come on, it was never going to wash.

As for Ms Parata's future let's just say that, politically anyway, compared to her the Boston Strangler was a safe pair of hands.

- The Southland Times

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