Whanau Ora Minister Tariana Turia didn't front the news media for some days after the Maori Development Ministry released an evaluation of the $34 million Whanau Integration, Innovation and Engagement Fund. She then said she was satisfied with the performance of the programme, didn't see a need for better monitoring or reporting, and was "more than satisfied with the accountability of the spend".
The ministry had called for more solid measures after finding performance, monitoring and reporting flaws. It also found the funds had been unevenly allocated across New Zealand. Impoverished regions such as Northland received only 7 per cent of the funding.
Ms Turia's constituents, on the other hand, are doing nicely, thank you, from the programme. Radio New Zealand has flushed out details showing almost 25 per cent of individuals who received funding applied for money in the Te Tai Hauauru region. It has just 8 per cent of the Maori population. It is represented in Parliament by the minister.
Questions would have been raised regardless of those revelations after a Mongrel Mob gang member in Otago misused Whanau Ora funding. He was jailed last week for dishonesty and supplying cannabis bought with a $20,000 grant.
Ms Turia insisted this had been an isolated case. But sentiment is bound to colour her judgment because Whanau Ora is very much her baby - a bold and controversial policy on which she has staked her political reputation.
She wants more balanced media reporting, saying there are some "incredible stories" about Whanau Ora's success. As far as she is concerned, "whanau are the best ones to tell us whether Whanau Ora is working for them - because their stories count". Yet she also says the families involved do not want their experiences made public.
She has just launched the Whanau Ora research website, a platform to develop and manage tools, methodologies and good practices for whanau-centred research. That's laudable.
But she declared Whanau Ora is not about funding streams or structures - it is about "survival on our terms". This implies an unacceptable indifference to the need for more effective accountability.
- © Fairfax NZ News