Hundreds missing out on Waitomo cash

The man who urged the Maori Land Court to reconsider who should benefit from the proceeds of tourism, at Waitomo Caves village, says he has "no idea" how many people should benefit.

Norman Tane, a 72-year-old descendant of Tanetinorau Opatai who explored the caves with European Fred Mace in 1887, urged the court to review the current setup seven years ago.

As a result the court ordered the Ruapuha Uekaha Hapu Trust, which collects the money from Tourism Holdings Ltd and distributes it among four other trusts, not to pass any money on until it had ruled on who should benefit.

Tane, when asked how many beneficiaries he had in mind, said he had "no idea".

"I can't count them."

But the Waikato Times understands a court commissioned report runs to 56 pages of names amounting to hundreds of possible benefactors.

"My view is that they are the big losers," Tane said.

His name is among those on the list.

Tane has spoken out after several residents of the tight-knit Waitomo community voiced concern a few weeks ago about the effect the unresolved case was having on the village.

Some claimed it meant money was going unspent on the iconic Waitomo Caves Hotel, which was due for a $3.5 million overhaul following its centenary in 2008.

Tane's argument has led the Ruapuha Uekaha Hapu Trust to accumulate $6m, at least 51 per cent of which would normally be passed on to the Tanetinorau Opatai Whanau Trust with the balance going to three other Maori trusts.

The Haami Haereiti Trust gets 24 per cent and 12.5 per cents goes to each of the Te Riutoto and Te Whatakaraka trusts.

"Tanetinorau Opatai Whanau Trust's correct shares should be 68 per cent and not 51 per cent," Tane told the Times.

"About the mid 1990s, the Maori Land Court informed Tanetinorau Opatai Whanau Trust of a calculation error in the shareholdings and that they need only make an application to amend the error. To date Tanetinorau Opatai Whanau Trust has not acted and the 51 per cent shareholding remains."

Because of this, Tane said, it could not be said that the restoration of the Waitomo Caves Hotel was dependent on trust funding.

"My application is to seek recognition and entitlement for and on behalf of all the rightful successor beneficiaries to the caves and other land interests."

The Government acquired the Waitomo Caves from Maori in 1908 under the Public Works Act but in 1990 offered the area back, vesting it in the names of the original 22 landowners.

"It's not my problem, it's the court's problem," Tane said. "The court must see some merit in my application otherwise they would have dismissed it long ago."

Tane said he was not surprised the long running case had caused concern in Waitomo.

"Obviously it affects the village . . . it's because of the complex situation."

Tane did not know when the case would reconvene and the issue settled.

"How long is a piece of string?

"Seven years my application has been in and it's had about five hearings. Still no decisions are contemplated."

Waikato Times