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Governance and funding of Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Waitangi National Trust Board Chair Jeremy Williams has reaffirmed his Board's position on the governance and funding of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Mr Williams, says that he is "utterly amazed" by comments from Shane Jones MP about the standard of governance of the Waitangi National Trust Board.

The Board and its management have, over recent years, received a number of accolades. "The achievement of the highest, government-backed and independently assessed Qualmark award evidences the standards achieved at the Treaty Grounds, and the winning of multiple business awards also underlines the integrity of the Board's governance and management practices.

"In my time as Deputy Chair and now Chair I have had only one consistent problem with governance and that has been the non-appearance of the three ex-officio ministerial members, namely the Prime Minister, the Minister of Conservation and the Minister of Maori Affairs. It is interesting that the Government is now taking such an active role in commenting on Board performance when the opportunity has existed for them to contribute around the Board table"

"Over the last few years, as we have continued with wide consultation on plans to develop the estate, we have held discussions with both government and private sector organisations. When it has come to sponsorships or financial partnerships, constructive outcomes have been less forthcoming from government discussions than from those with the private sector.

"It has been clear that, currently, any government money would mean compromising the historical independence of the estate. We intend to keep this national treasure well clear of the possibility of being misused for political purposes.

Board members are surprised by criticism from Government about its $12 entrance fee charge. A fee has been charged since 1937 and this was because Lord Bledisloe was adamant that his gift would be free of political influence. The Government is aware that the Board is working toward free entry for New Zealanders as soon as it is feasible.

Mr Williams says any idea that the Board could be absorbed into the Ministry of Culture and Heritage or one of its associated entities would also be "just one more suggestion in a long line of many".

"I don't believe this would be legally feasible or in the best interests of New Zealanders," he said. "The Trust remains true to the Bledisloes' dream of an estate to be held in a trust for all New Zealanders as a place for recreation, education and cultural events, free from political influence, for all time. The Board celebrates its 75th birthday this year and we are looking forward to administering the estate for the next 75 years and beyond.

"Government is entitled to ex officio members on the Board, but legally, we are not subject to Government control or direction."

Mr Williams said the Board had discussed the Government's idea that its members should become patrons or guardians of the estate, but had decided to remain an independent Board dedicated to carrying out Lord and Lady Bledisloe's vision.

"We strongly believe Waitangi is a place that must always strive to sit apart from the vagaries, fortunes and misfortunes of politics. It would be extremely damaging to have successive governments walk across such a revered landscape leaving different footprints each time," he said.

Mr Williams said the Board was legally appointed and it had a Duty of Trust. "We are in control and we will continue to administer this estate free of political intervention, as the Bledisloes clearly intended."

ENDS

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