In another Whanau Ora controversy, Winston Peters has revealed a Palmerston North based provider owes $75,000 to IRD in overdue GST and PAYE tax. The provider, a branch of the Women’s Refuge, also overpaid annual leave. Following an audit report funding was frozen.
This controversy, in conjunction with the others, illustrates serious competency issues in the delivery and monitoring of Whanau Ora. The problems can be attributed to teething issues, but I think that explanation is too simplistic.
Whanau Ora outsources social service funding and delivery. More often than not the government outsources to organisations that do not have a proven track record in delivering and monitoring social services. The Women’s Refuge, for example, is a proven provider when it comes to providing accomodation and support for battered women. However, beyond that service, the Women’s Refuge is untested and inexperienced. I think it is fair to assume no one in the Women’s Refuge has the institutional, administrative and business experience to competently deliver social services beyond what they specialise in.
This was always going to be the gamble with Whanau Ora. There were never enough organisations with the capacity and experience to deliver what the government does or did. There are exceptions, the Waipereira trust is probably the most prominent example, but they are the exception not the rule.
It is an indictment on Te Puni Kokiri that these controversies keep occurring. TPK was, after all, restructured in an attempt to put more focus on Whanau Ora.
I support Whanau Ora in principle. The idea that communities should deliver social services makes sense. The idea that social service delivery should be centralised is also smart. However, the ideas do not seem to be working well in practice. This, I think, can be rectified over time. The government needs to take a more active role in building capability among providers. Any approach otherwise is just negligent.