Ngati Tama get help to avoid ruin

ISOBEL EWING
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2013

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The Taranaki iwi which lost most of its Treaty of Waitangi payout is back in credit, but two people who helped it turn the corner are still questioning the iwi's leadership.

In less than 10 years Ngati Tama managed to lose the bulk of its $14.5 million treaty settlement payout through bad investments, it was revealed last year.

Accountant and chairman of Te Wananga o Aotearoa Richard Batley was part of an advisory committee formed to haul the iwi out of debt.

Mr Batley is credited for turning the tertiary institute around and has Ngati Tama affiliations himself.

Thanks to the efforts of the group, today Ngati Tama has approximately $1.85m of unencumbered assets generating an income of approximately $80,000.

"It's not a hell of a lot but it's better than it was," Mr Batley said.

But fellow advisory group member Amos White said the committee was less involved now than it had been, while Mr Batley said he had stepped away completely.

The group curtailed its role because the board was not really heeding its advice, Mr White said.

Repeated attempts by the Taranaki Daily News to contact Ngati Tama chief executive Greg White were unsuccessful.

He had stepped down as the iwi chief executive but has now taken the role back up again.

Mr Batley said the Ngati Tama administration had a lot to answer for.

"It's a very sorry state of affairs and if it went unchecked I shudder to think what the situation would be today."

In November 2011 Mr Batley was asked to assist Ngati Tama with its financial difficulties.

"The trust was insolvent and they did not have a plan for recovery.

"They were set to lose any remaining assets they had," he said.

Other members of the advisory committee were PKW chief executive Dion Tuuta, and trust member Paul Silich. Robin Brockie of Staples Rodway also offered professional assistance.

Mr Batley said the advisory group had to implement a plan that would not only pay all outstanding creditors but result in Ngati Tama salvaging some of the assets from their Treaty claim.

"Our job was to chart a course of recovery."

The trust had not filed any tax returns since 2004 so the committee cleaned that up too, he said.

The committee organised a sale of assets which were not generating any income to total the debts and ensured some of the assets capable of generating income were maintained.

It was a matter of logic and making the right decisions, Mr Batley said.

"Very often I don't think people get the right advice, particularly iwi."

He said it was time for Ngati Tama's leaders to move aside and allow new people to continue the iwi's recovery.

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"There is a need for Ngati Tama to hold elections and for that old guard to do the right thing and resign.

"They have had their time in the sun, their record speaks for itself."

Mr White said elections for Ngati Tama were overdue.

"The advisory group can only say what needs to happen, it's up to the board to make that happen."

He said iwi beneficiaries needed to register for elections if they wanted to see change.

Mr Batley's advice to other iwi was that settlement monies belonged to iwi and trustees needed to be aware of their responsibility as custodians.

"They are there to safeguard the assets of the tribe; you need the right people to fill those positions."

Expertise from reputable advisers, both legal and accounting was crucial, he said.

"If they require technical expertise, get the right advisers and take that advice.

"That's where Ngati Tama erred in many ways."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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