(First published in The Dominion Post, October 18.)
THERE HAS long been a nagging suspicion that taxpayer-supported Maori organisations are not always held to the same standards of accountability as non-Maori ones.Along with that, there is a suspicion that there exists within Maoridom a mindset which holds that allegations of dodgy practices should be dealt with in the Maori way; that Maori are accountable only to Maori, even when public money is at stake, and outside institutions have no business poking their noses in. Keep it in the family, so to speak.
What’s more, it’s sometimes hard to escape the feeling that government departments and other bureaucratic institutions play along with this in the interests of cultural sensitivity, even if it means turning a blind eye to irregularities.There’s the additional problem that conventional accounting systems are not set up to deal with practices such as koha (the customary payment of money or other gifts to one's hosts), where bookkeeping niceties are not necessarily observed. The potential for abuse is obvious.
Nepotism – the granting of jobs and favours to whanau members – is an issue too. Many within Maoridom condone and even expect it, but it’s incompatible with the standards required of organisations spending public funds.Take the current controversy over alleged misuse of kohanga reo funds. Thousands of dollars have reportedly been spent on personal purchases, including expensive designer dresses, and non-receipted koha payments. Family connections are implicated.
But what’s heartening about the kohanga reo affair is that it was exposed by the Maori Television programme Native Affairs. Moreover, the Maori broadcaster stood firm when the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust Board – which gets $79 million a year in government funding – tried to stifle the controversy by seeking an injunction.Interestingly, before going to court, the kohanga reo board had reportedly leaned on the board of Maori Television - in other words, tried to deal with it the Maori way. It’s not hard to imagine a less stalwart Maori TV being persuaded to cave in for the benefit of Maori solidarity. That it didn’t is greatly to its credit. But it also raises a disturbing question: are there rorts that are not exposed? And if so, how many?
By courageously pursuing this story, and risking condemnation for blowing the whistle on her fellow Maori, Native Affairs journalist Mihingarangi Forbes has more than regained the respect she lost when, as a Campbell Live reporter, she conducted a disgracefully partisan and emotionally overwrought interview with the ill-fated Alasdair Thompson, then head of an Auckland employers’ organisation, over his statements on women’s sick leave in 2011.Forbes told the Sunday Star-Times last week that in Maoridom, the usual six degrees of separation was “more like one degree”, and with that came pressure.
“We all got emails and calls saying ‘Just leave it alone’ and ‘Why is a Maori organisation investigating another Maori organisation?’.”In other words, some in Maoridom consider they should be immune from media scrutiny – which makes Maori Television’s tenacity all the more admirable.
What’s equally encouraging is that lax financial management in the kohanga reo movement has been condemned by others within Maoridom, notably Labour MP Shane Jones – who has also been scathing about irregularities and dysfunctionality in other Maori institutions – and Maori blogger Morgan Godfery.Godfery was understandably angry that that credit cards were reportedly being used for personal ends – such as a Kardashian-branded handbag – when kohanga reo learning centres were struggling to survive.
Perhaps we are seeing an overdue sea change. Is it too much to hope that an indulgent state will be less inclined in future to turn a blind eye to slovenly accountability by taxpayer-supported Maori organisations?* * *
I COULD BARELY contain my excitement at the announcement that Wellington is celebrating a Month of Mansfield to mark the 125th anniversary of the birth of Katherine Mansfield.As every New Zealander learns, Mansfield was the greatest writer in the history of the English language – a household name even in the most far-flung corners of civilisation, read as avidly by Tibetan yak herders as by Oxford dons. But lest we forget this, worthy committees of blue-rinsed Mansfield admirers have spent years planning events in her honour.
My diary is so chocker with Mansfield commemorations that I don’t know how I’m going to get around them all. Must-attend events include the unveiling of a plaque on a Tinakori Rd lamp post where she’s believed to have waited briefly for a tram in 1906, and a reading at the Alexander Turnbull Library of her recently rediscovered short story At the Dentist, a vividly observed recollection of her first tooth extraction.If you haven’t booked already, I’m afraid you’ve missed out. But never mind: the Mansfield Admiration Society has a great programme lined up for the anniversary of the day she took her first faltering steps, and another for the date on which she is thought to have first ingested solid food (the remains of the partly consumed rusk in question are carefully preserved at Te Papa). Further announcements are believed to be pending.