Working party to sort out Te Kohanga Reo board

THE BOARD: Te Kohanga Reo Trust Board chair, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi and Tukoroirangi Morgan.
THE BOARD: Te Kohanga Reo Trust Board chair, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi and Tukoroirangi Morgan.

A working party has been set up to sort out the problems surrounding Te Kohanga Reo National Trust, following a special national hui of the organisation held at Ngaruawahia at the weekend.

The hui, hosted by the Maori King Tuheitia Paki, promised to be a hotly contested debate and didn't disappoint.

Maori Television's Native Affairs programme was banned from taking part in a press conference at Turangawaewae House.

The programme revealed alleged misspending by the trust's subsidiary, Te Pataka Ohanga (TPO).

Media questions put to the trust chair over alleged misspending nearly forced the board to stop the press conference.

Last month an independent audit showed there was no misspending of public money by the trust, however allegations that sparked the inquiry had not been addressed. It included allegations made by Native Affairs which stated public funds were used by TPO managers on a wedding dress, an $800 Trelise Cooper dress, a 21st birthday and a $1000 cash withdrawal from a petrol station as koha for a tangi which was not attended. 

Those allegations are currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

Kohanga Reo National Trust Board chairwoman Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, who is the mother-in-law of TPO manager Lynda Tawhiwhirangi, fronted the press conference  with former Kingitanga representative on the board Tukoroirangi Morgan, Dr Timote Karetu and Dr Wharehuia Milroy.

Morgan explained that two further motions were passed by hui-goers; that the Crown should not interfere in the affairs of Kohanga Reo and that the Kohanga Reo's successful Waitangi Tribunal claim against the Crown for underfunding, should be progressed.

''The minister has made some public statements in relation to circumventing further funding,'' Morgan said. ''It is the view of the Kohanga Reo Movement that the intrusion of the Crown is unwelcome.''

Mr Morgan said the ''life membership'' policy for board members had also been scrapped.More than 1200 people, representatives of all 496 kohanga reo and the full board attended the hui.

The working party selected by the hui will visit all kohanga reo to collect their views and prepare a report for the trust board.

Morgan described the working party, which include Dr Tania Smith, Dr Kathie Irwin and Sir Toby Curtis, as a ''highly skilled working party''.  

Three more working party members will be elected at a later date.Questions then turned to purchases made by the trust. When asked if she stood by the purchases, Iritana Tawhiwhirangi was adamant. ''Of course I do,'' she said. 

''I'm not going to answer at this stage, I've kept quiet deliberately because this is an investigation which we welcome, we welcome everything TPO, allegations, the national trust - whatever. So it's not a problem for me.''

Iritana Tawhiwhirangi said the spending was looked at as part of the internal investigation of the trust.

 Morgan then threatened to shut down the conference if questions persisted about the Serious Fraud Office investigation, saying the board members present could not elaborate on an on-going investigation.

 When questions turned to the banning of Native Affairs journalists from the conference, Morgan said: ''We make our own choices on who we talk to.'' 

A speech made by Tuheitia during the closed hui described his actions in ensuring the Kohanga Reo movement progressed were not the actions of a king but one made by a father and grandfather