Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wetere walks with head high

Rongo Wetere has stepped down as chief executive of Te Wananga o Aotearoa in a move which saves the wananga from having to continue fighting what would have been a costly Employment Court hearing. story

Although Wetere had a strong case over the manner in which the wananga’s council, which is now controlled by Crown appointees, forced him to step aside earlier this year, the council had made clear their intention to appeal if the judgment went against them.

Tertiary education minister Michael Cullen had also indicated he was prepared to legislate to get rid of Wetere – which was probably an empty threat, given the precarious hold Labour has on the treasury benches, but it all added to the pressure on Wetere.

Wetere gets six months pay in recognition of long (and underpaid) service. Bentham Ohia will become acting chief executive.

The right thing now for Michael Cullen to do is remove Wira Gardiner, appointed by his predecessor Trevor Mallard, from the wananga’s council. It was Gardiner who forced Wetere out when the council received the Auditor Office’s draft report on the wananga, ignoring natural justice as usual. The fact the final report backed off most of the more extreme claims ands failed to find any criminality or fraud on the part of Wetere or anyone else is a testament to Gardiner’s poor judgment.

Not only is Gardiner a divisive factor in every situation he is put into, he also has a major conflict of interest because of his involvement with Ngati Awa’s Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi. Among the courses the Crown managers dropped from Aotearoa’s funding profile are some which compete with Awanuiarangi.

In fact, given the content of the Audit Office report, the Crown’s justification for intervention falls away.

There was an interesting discussion about the wananga on National Radio's 9 to noon show. The Maori Party’s Hone Harawira floundered, Labour’s Shane Jones spelled out his reservations about the wananga designing courses for non-Maori students, insisting the wananga should be seen as part of the Maori renaissance. However, he did acknowledge a major function of the wananga was salvage education, which applies to more than Maori.

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