24 Jul 2014

Questions over Whanau Ora contracts

11:41 am on 24 July 2014

An internal review of two Whanau Ora funds has found problems an auditor says could bring the whole programme into disrepute.

Founding Whanau Ora Minister Tariana Turia, left, with members of its governance group.

Founding Whanau Ora Minister Tariana Turia, left, with members of its governance group. Photo: RNZ

Te Puni Kokiri (TPK) has released the full audits, almost two years after Radio New Zealand requested them under the Official Information Act.

The original documents released under the Act contained only a summary, and the rest of the information was blacked out. Radio New Zealand complained to public watchdog, the Ombudsman.

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem ruled that it was in the public interest to release the audits, which looked at how the Maori Potential Fund and the Whanau Integration Innovation and Engagement Fund of Whanau Ora are handed out in two regions.

These funds allow all New Zealand whanau to apply for money to help improve their situation or gain employment for example.

In the March 2012 audit of Te Whanganui-a-Tara, three out of four of the contracts between whanau and TPK which the auditor looked at had problems. Under internal funding guidelines only $5000 can be given to a family but the audit showed an average of $6666 was given.

The audit stated that there was potential for the money given to be excessive. It also said the inconsistent and unsubstantiated base for funding could bring the whole programme into disrepute.

There was a similar problem with the Waikato audit, which found levels of money given to whanau ranged from $2000 to $6666.

The auditor also noted the funding guidelines and said the lack of detail in the contracts could also bring the whole programme into disrepute. The audit in the Waikato region also found conflicts of interests were not being managed.

The audit recommended a working group be established to review processes and monitoring requirements.

However, TPK said in a statement the group was not established because the focus of Whanau Ora changed last year.

The fund was closed last month, and three non-governmental commissioning agencies now run Whanau Ora.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the issue was a sign of widespread problems with the programme, and that problems with it were not isolated to those cases.

"Whanau Ora came from a report where there was not one piece of analytical evidence, it was all anecdotal," he said.

"And if you take that as a basis for a sound policy, the rest is pretty much assured.

"Ongoing corruption, ongoing misuse of money and an ongoing waste of Maori potential."

The Ombudsman's Office said understaffing was behind the time it took to rule on the documents. It now had six more staff and had improved its system and the way it processed complaints.