Monday, March 06, 2006

Price put on wananga plunder

The Maori Party is finally asking some of the right questions on Te Wananga o Aotearoa, zeroing in on how much Trevor Mallard’s takeover of a Maori-developed institution is costing.

Party co-leader Pita Sharples asked Tertiary Education Minister Michael Cullen how much Brian Roche, a senior partner with accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, is being paid as Crown Manager of Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

Cullen said it is not just Roche but six others from PWC feeding at the trough, which for the 04/05 financial year cost $545,223 (excluding GST). For the period 1 July 2005 to 31 January 2006 a total of $810,789 (excluding GST) was paid to PriceWaterhouseCoopers for the work. Brian Roche's direct involvement varies over time but represented approximately 23% of the total bill, or just over $300,000, at $2400 a day plus gst and disbursements.

Cullen say Roche will stay in place as Crown Observer "until the Government is satisfied that the level of risk pertaining to
Te Wananga o Aotearoa is at acceptable levels."

He will remain as Crown manager for as long the term of the Crown loan currently propping up the wananga's activities, which is likely to be for at least the remainder of this year. "I envisage the Crown Manager will remain in place until the financial issues at Te Wananga o Aotearoa have been satisfactorily addressed and his services are no longer required."

Bear in mind, Roche is in place because Cullen’s predecessor, Trevor Mallard, engineered a financial crisis by refusing to pay over the suspensory loan agreed as part of a treaty settlement, on the pretext the wananga had too many non-Maori students – a pretext the Waitangi Tribunal has said is not justifiable in terms of the wananga’s mission.

Former wananga chief executive Rongo Wetere was ousted because of allegation of financial impropriety which an Audit Office investigation was unable to back up. Now it turns out the Crown’s agents are a far more expensive option, and there is so far no evidence they have the institution’s best interests at heart.

Sharples told the Dominon Post it was ironic a Government minder brought in to cut costs was being paid an exorbitant handout when the wananga's former management had been criticised for its financial largesse.

Cullen's spokesman, Mike Jaspers, told the DomPost Roche had achieved a lot, including improved financial management and organisational practices, replacing the council and was in the process of finding a new chief executive.

Back up. The council has been illegal since Mallard's bullyboy, Wira Gardiner, pressured most of the iwi reps to leave. The council is now being reconstituted to give it some shred of legality and as a result of the out of court settlement with Wetere.

The wananga’s chairman, Craig Coxhead, another Crown appointee, said Roche and his team had cut the organisation's losses significantly and reduced its need for financial assistance from the Crown. Coxhead couldn’t provide any figures backing up that assertion until accounts were done up at the end of the financial year.

Coxhead said PWC had "dramatically improved our ability to track, predict and manage costs and assist in the proper management of our assets". If that is the case, the figures should be available now.

Demonising Wetere has involved lots of accusations, but these highly-paid accountants haven't even been able to release the accounts for the previous financial year. Or perhaps they don’t back up their case for Wetere’s mismanagement without a lot of cooking, such as revaluation practices which might not pass audit.

As for reducing the need for financial assistance from the Crown, that’s not the idea. The wananaga is a publicly funded body. The issue was that Wetere was given three years to grown without a funding cap, a freedom he took advantage of for almost 30 months before Mallard stepped in. He revealed deficiencies in the tertiary education sector which need to be addressed, but instead look like they will again be pushed under the carpet.

As head of PWC's "government relations" team, Roche has done well for himself. Mallard tipped him in to the Correspondence School, Northland Polytechnic and the Open Polytechnic.

The government also appointed him to chair the Auckland Regional Transport Authority. His is a former chief executive of Treasury's Crown Company Monitoring and Advisory Unit and was a chief Crown negotiator for the Ngai Tahu Treaty of Waitangi settlement.


Blogger ZenTiger said...

The government handling of the entire affair has appeared incompetent. The government created the mess they now find themselves in. It's what they do.

However, Wetere certainly appeared to exploit the funding loopholes. There has been a disconnect between providing outcomes for students, and respecting the source of the money, and how best to use it.

The best outcome would be for a open and comprehensive disclosure of the entire affair, so that some learning is done and fundamental changes made.

Sweeping it under the carpet will not achieve that. Mind you, under Labour, I'm not sure any learning could be done in any event. The philosophy has to change to gain new insight.

9:38 PM  

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