Sunday, May 07, 2006

Ratcheting up the Treaty bureaucracy

The bureaucrats in the Office of Treaty Settlements have put their hands in the government’s pockets yet again and pulled out another plum - $5.2 million in the next Budget, to be spread over four years.

That means more bright young things marching down Lambton Quay to write papers and play at being the "Crown", just like a 19th century land purchase officer, and more money for the high priced consulting firms who are actually doing much of the talking.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Mark Burton says it will allow the Government to meet its deadline of requiring all historical claims to be lodged by 2008 and all historical settlements to be concluded by 2020.

What this government won’t do is give the Waitangi Tribunal the resources it has been crying out for to ensure claims are fully heard and reported on in a timely fashion, so the settlements can be negotiated on a proper basis that claimants can be happy with.

Nor does it do anything about the fact that many claimant groups are now reluctant to enter into the fray, because the amount they are being offered is so insulting. Unless Labour is prepared to put in more real money, that will get worse.

This is why the Maori Party refused to vote on the Rotorua Lakes settlement last week. Almost two decades of talking, and the only reason Te Arawa finally bit was Labour sweetened to pot to have some good news to announce just before the last election.

This is money for the bureaucracy, not the claimants, and bureaucracies are self serving, and self perpetuating.

Labour still has not come to grips with the claims arena. Its first minister for treaty negotiations, Margaret Wilson, ignored the portfolio for her first year in the job, because she was immersed in rolling back National’s attacks on industrial relations protections. OTS used the break to dig in a set of processes which were already failing then.

Mark Burton is also obviously not in charge. Settlements mean transfers of capital, both financial and political, and that means Michael Cullen and Helen Clark respectively. If either of those took on the portfolio, it would be a far better signal the government was taking it seriously.

The government is fearful that offering better settlements will trigger the ratchet clauses, by which Tainui and Ngai Tahu are each guaranteed 17% of the total settlement quantum, the ridiculous $1 billion fiscal cap.

I said years ago that Labour should have bought out Tainui’s ratchet clause a few years ago when it was in a cash crisis, and paid Ngai Tahu the same. It was fair enough the clause was in the Tainui settlement, given the political risks taken by Bob Mahuta et al, but there was no justification for Ngai Tahu getting it. It just means that Ngai Tahu hold the rest of Maoridom at ransom, as it tried to over the fisheries settlement.

So what relevance are the ratchet clauses to Labour’s current policies? Or its timidity.

There could be a way around it though. A question for Cullen etc, if anyone is asking.

When tribes buy Crown or SOE assets with their settlement funds, should that be at today’s valuations, or at their valuation in 1992, when the fiscal envelope was introduced?


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