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Sharples: Te Wananga o Aotearoa

Te Wananga o Aotearoa

Dr Pita sharples

6 dECEMBER 2005

Shortly as we came into the House, Dr Cullen issued a release, stating that:

"I believe it would be in the best interests of the wânanga if Rongo Wetere listened to some of those closest to him and stood aside as chief executive”.

Such a statement is hardly surprising when we turn to the Controller and Auditor-General report which “ focuses heavily on Rongo Wetere and members of his whanau” while acknowledging that they were not solely responsible for governing and managing Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

We are not here to make judgements on either Mr Wetere or his whanau - our role is not to usurp the role of the judiciary, the police, the Auditor-General or any other statutory body that takes on this role.

But we are here, on behalf of our constituency, to ask questions about the basic standards of justice and fair treatment before the law.

Despite the reservation that governance and management didn’t reside solely with Mr Wetere, the report suggests that it was not necessary to name the other individuals whom they state “play important roles in its governance and management”.

The report then stated further that although TWOA’s Council and Senior Management have been so heavily involved,

“Rongo Wetere has not had adequate help and advice from those around them”.

On 9 May this year, the Education Minister described Te Wananga o Aotearoa as being in ‘very very serious financial and governance and managerial situation”. So began, the unprecedented pursuit of one man and his family. The question we have always asked, is why was the focus not put on those for whom oversight of these activities was their responsibility?

A “serious financial and governance and managerial situation” is surely something that needs a comprehensive analysis of all factors - including the Crown watchdogs, the nature of the support made available by Crown resources, and its early warning systems.

Can anyone in this House recollect a situation when an organisation, a flagship of Aotearoa, was losing over $1m a day, as a result of poor decision-making practices for significant expenditure?

Indeed, this organisation has experienced the biggest financial loss in New Zealand's corporate history.

So severe was the loss that Finance Minister Michael Cullen handed over a taxpayer "loan" of $550 million at "commercial rates," conditional upon a satisfactory outcome of "due diligence."

That $550 million was not enough….another $300 million was required from Brierleys and Singapore Airlines to get this flagship into a situation of profit again.

Madam Speaker, we are not talking about Te Wananga o Aotearoa here - this is Air New Zealand -the so-called national symbol of the Country’s airlines - with many of the top commercial brains in the country.

Four years ago, Dr Cullen was happy to bail out this flagship with tax payer money, without an inquiry such as that which Te Wananga o Aotearoa has to endure.

If further action needs to be taken now, then we would encourage the Government to do so. If crimes have been committed, then we would support natural justice following its course.

The $20 million suspensory loan that is being represented as a generous offering by the government should have been made available last year; moreover, it should be a capital grant and not a loan.

If this were done, the shortfall between Aotearoa's capital funding and that of the other tertiary institutions would still be substantial.

Madam Speaker, there is one further issue I want to raise at this point of inquiry.

The settlement agreement was made not to exclude students but to allow for the growth of Maori numbers in tertiary education.

This growth has exceeded all expectations - Ministry of Education statistics reveal Maori participation in tertiary education almost doubled from 1999 to 2003 (from 32,825 to 62,574 students).

But so too, has the growth of non-Maori.

Why then, would any thinking Minister want to inhibit such healthy racial interactions provided at the wananga.

This country's largest tertiary education institution, Te Wananga o Aotearoa, has single handedly created a Mäori tertiary education market. In three or four years it has achieved what successive governments have promised decade after decade but have failed to deliver.

The Maori Party wonders whether the real agenda by exposing Te Wananga o Aotearoa to successive inquiry upon inquiry, is because of its own inability to adequately monitor and give advice to all tertiary institutions, including the Polytechnics and Universities?

All these organisations have difficulty with managing budgets which is why they regularly increase fees to their students.

Indeed the government has had to bail out some of these organisations, as indeed they should.

Tertiary education is after all, very important for this country going forward.

What Te Wananga o Aotearoa has to offer students, many of whom are experiencing tertiary education for the first time, is also important for this country going forward.

To undermine its existence would be a blight on our society.


ENDS

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