Old ways in Maoridom more open to challenge

NZ FIRST LEADER: Winston Peters.
NZ FIRST LEADER: Winston Peters.

If Winston Peters did not exist, Pakeha New Zealand would have to invent him.

Very few politicians are willing to risk the opprobrium which inevitably accompanies serious criticism of things Maori. But as a Maori himself, Peters enjoys a sort of immunity from "sickly white liberal" prosecution.

It's as well that he does. Otherwise, holding Maori individuals and institutions to account for the expenditure of public funds would be even more difficult than it is.

And Peters' willingness to point the finger at his own people's shortcomings would appear to be catching. Over the past month we have witnessed two important examples of Maori journalists exposing what they claim to be serious problems with the management of public money by Maori trusts.

The first of these exposes involved accusations of mismanagement against senior figures within the kohanga reo movement.

It was Maori Television's Mihingarangi Forbes who broke the story. In an item for the Native Affairs programme, entitled Feathering the Nest, Forbes drew attention to unusual patterns of credit card expenditure and a number of large unreceipted donations.

Considerable effort was devoted to thwarting the Native Affairs investigation - not least an unsuccessful attempt to secure a court injunction against the programme's broadcast.

As a result of Native Affairs' courageous journalism, the ministers of Education and Maori Affairs have jointly demanded a full investigation of the alleged irregularities.

The second example involved what might be called a "whistle- blowing" broadcast alleging serious instances of mismanagement at Tokoroa's Maori radio station, Raukawa FM.

In an extraordinary sequence of events, the station manager, Rosina Hauiti, last month took to the airwaves with a long list of allegations against the station's trustees. When the latter attempted to evict her from the building, Hauiti barricaded herself against all-comers.

Though charges and counter- charges continue to fly, Hauiti's broadcast, like Forbes', has produced the desired outcome - an official intervention.

Te Mangai Paho, the station's principal funder (to the tune of $384,100 a year) has asked the accounting firm Deloitte to investigate Hauiti's allegations as part of their scheduled review of the trust board's activities.

Speaking at the NZ First Party's annual conference in Christchurch on Saturday, the NZ First leader recalled the late 1980s and early 90s when many businesses engaged in "the greatest deceit" until dragged into line by improved systems of accountability.

Peters said Maoridom had called for transparency in the past, but now fended off legitimate investigation with accusations of "Maori bashing".

He claimed that: "Certain ones have gone back to that behaviour, where to challenge them was to challenge their mana, their breeding, any concocted excuse to get out of their responsibility to their own people and the taxpayer. It means that honest Maori, who are the great bulk of Maori, are imaged in the worst possible light, and it cheats them of a certain future."

This newfound willingness to hold itself to account signals that a profound sociological shift is underway in Maoridom.

Max Weber, the 19th-century "father" of modern sociology, would have immediately recognised the processes at work.

As Maori capitalism develops (most obviously in the form of the large iwi-based corporation) it is producing scores of tertiary- educated, highly-skilled young graduates.

Increasingly, these young Maori professionals are unwilling to tolerate either the business inefficiencies generated by traditional practices, or the injustices so often associated with charismatic leadership.

They are past making excuses for, or (even worse) covering up the behaviour of those who will not budge from the old ways.

Weber, himself, described the process as a progression from the pre-modern to the modern: "The fate of our times is characterised by rationalisation and intellectualisation and, above all, by the 'disenchantment of the world'."

The Maori Party's co-leader, Tariana Turia, is emblematic of Maori who still dwell in the "enchanted" realms of Maoridom.

Early on in her political career she spoke openly about having a constant invisible companion: A spirit guardian who protected her from harm and guided her through important decisions.

Suffice to say this is not the sort of leadership style, or decision- making process, the big iwi corporates' young professionals are being taught at the Auckland Business School.

Nor are they encouraged to regard the keeping of accurate records and being able to account for all items of expenditure as responsibilities fit only for lesser breeds. When dealing with shareholders - or taxpayers - neither inherited rank nor charismatic power is entitled to a free pass.

The transition from tribal traditionalism to the rational bureaucratic norms of secular society is one most Pakeha New Zealanders have already undertaken. It was not an easy or comfortable journey. Nor will it be for Maori. Transparency and enchantment do not dwell in the same house.

The Press