|The first Kohanga Reo with Sir Eddie Durie and Paul Temm QC|
Consider this: in 2012 the Waitangi Tribunal held that the government must provide "funding for property maintenance and upgrades to avoid the exposing 3,000 mokopuna to the possibility of losing their kohanga reo buildings". The head of Te Taura Whiri, Glenis Philip-Barbara, says that Kohanga are running "on the sniff of an oily rag". According to Native Affairs the number of kohanga have gone from over 800 at the movement's peak to a little over 400 today.
And compare that against this: in 2011 Lynda Tawhiwhirangi purchased a wedding dress for her daughter and in 2012 she purchased a Trelise Cooper dress. Tawhiwhirangi also purchased "a 21st present for a woman who was in a relationship with one of [her] son's and had carried out work experience at the trust" Over a number of years withdrawals were made that included $1000 for a hui that wasn't attended. Native also revealed that "$129,000 [was] given out by the trust in koha... that wasn't receipted or tracked". All the while the whanau at the coal face went and are going without.
This is a breach of trust and a breach of ethics. Public money demands a greater standard of care. In the last financial year the trust received $80m in taxpayer funding. The Prime Minister told Firstline that "this is taxpayers' money. It needs to be spent appropriately and if it's inappropriate behaviour then they'll have the book thrown at them." And he's in the right. Public money demands public accountability.
But the aspect that grates is that while Lynda Tawhiwhirangi and Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi were using their trust credit cards for excessive and luxurious spending - the whanau at the flaxroot were going without. There's also an element of hypocrisy: the kohanga themselves have to follow strict accounting practices, but the same doesn't seem to be expected of some trustees and directors.
But to be fair most of the money was eventually paid back. Most. It's important not to lose sight of that in the heat. Dame Iritana is a titan of the movement too. A laspe of judgement can be forgiven. But is anyone else uncomfortable in that a pattern appears to have emerged?
The crisis provides a useful case study in what not to do when the temperature is up. Don't take defamation proceedings. That turned the anticipation-dial hot and gave the story legs of its own. Don't go to ground. That means speculation will run rife. Apologise - the issue might be cooled. If not, resign. The media and the public need a get. But on a moral level, an honour code demands a resignation.
I worry that if an independent investigation uncovers more inappropriate spending then that is an invitation for non-Maori to sort the issue. The solution will be (I imagine) greater integration with the Ministry of Education and early childhood education. I don't think that's the right approach. The trend is towards devolution (Whanau Ora, Charter Schools etc) rather than reintegration. An independent Maori organisation is better equipped to deal with Maori education. Centralised and state-led Maori education failed in the 20th century.
But the New Public Management Model created the beast. Devolving public functions to a myriad of semi-private organisations was a mistake. Devolution is justified on efficiency grounds, but many aspects of public accountability are lost. The government can also wash its hands of responsibility. The trust isn't part of the core public service nor even the wider public service.
The trust has to sort itself. If it doesn't, others will. The best way to sort itself out? Resign. Hold an election. The worst option is if the government is forced to intervene and break up the Kohanga board and remake the structure. There'll be all sorts of collateral damage in that possibility.