Te Wananga o Aotearoa's council has come under fire after refusing to accept a new representative on its body nominated by King Tuheitia.
Susan Cullen, the daughter of former Te Wananga o Aotearoa chief executive Rongo Wetere was put up as the Kingitanga representative on the body which runs the Te Awamutu-based tertiary institution with more than 80 outlets around New Zealand.
Mrs Cullen was caught up in controversy over the Wananga in 2005 following accusations of nepotisim and criticism over the quality of some of its courses. It resulted in a Crown manager being appointed temporarily and an Auditor General's investigation which ultimately found that while there were conflicts of interest, there was no misappropriation or fraud.
Mrs Cullen and the King's spokesperson, Tuku Morgan, both say the council's actions go against their own constitution and as a result, legal action is being considered.
They are also calling for the resignation of council chair Richard Batley.
Under the constitution, it is stated ''one member [will be] appointed by the Council on the nomination of Kingi Tuheitia''.
However, Waikato University Dean of Law, Professor Bradford Morse, said the council may be in the clear.
''The King nominates but does not appoint. It's not like the Ministry of Education which appoints four members. In this case the council appoints, so they have that discretion,'' he said.
''It's just a matter of, have they exercised that discretion properly? Was the decision made without evidence of bias or improper factors? Then, that seat would remain vacant until the King made another nomination which the council would accept.''
Mrs Cullen said the only reason the council gave for the rejection was that they were restructuring and would not have a place for a Kingitanga representative, and believes they came to the decision because of a ''misinformation campaign by the chair''.
''You can't just say something about a restructure and not appoint the King's representative. It's been done without consultation, and it's misleading and they can't use that excuse to knock back the King. It's unacceptable and we're calling them into account,'' she said.
However, Mr Batley said there is no restructure but a review, after which a consultation would take place. The decision was made after careful consideration of what Mrs Cullen would bring to the table, he said.
''[The council] considered the nominee's personal attributes, historical relationships with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and previous interactions with its members. After considered debate...members felt that the nominee would likely have an unduly negative affect on the collegial environment at the governance table,'' he said.
''The decision was one made by the collective 15 member council. I have the complete support of this council, who elected me as chairman. I will not be resigning,'' said Mr Batley.
The council has advised the King's office that we welcome another nomination from the King, and King Tuheitia's spokesperson Mr Morgan said they will be considering their options but were not ready to disclose them as yet.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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