15 Oct 2013

Urgent meeting called on kohanga reo spending

7:25 pm on 15 October 2013

The Kohanga Reo National Trust board is being hauled in front of ministers on Tuesday to explain allegations of credit card misuse by the trust's commercial arm.

Prime Minister John Key says if the allegations prove to be true, then strong action should be taken.

Boad members Toni Waho, left, Druis Barrett and Tina Ratana arrive at Parliament.

Boad members Toni Waho, left, Druis Barrett and Tina Ratana arrive at Parliament. Photo: RNZ

The Maori Television programme Native Affairs, which investigated the commercial arm Te Pataka Ohanga, reported on Monday night that it has seen statements showing business credit cards were used to buy dresses, fuel and overnight accommodation - purchases it says were unrelated to the trust's work.

Education Minister Hekia Parata and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples met with board members Tina Ratana, Toni Waho and Druis Barrett at Parliament on Tuesday night.

Ms Parata said ministers need to be assured that public funds had been used for the purposes that they were intended, and they would be discussing the investigations that are necessary.

She said monitoring by her ministry had not found any irregularities in kohanga reo spending, but she was concerned about the matter. She would not say whether she believed any members of the board should step down.

Hekia Parata.

Hekia Parata. Photo: NATIONAL PARTY

Ms Parata and Dr Sharples say the Government's funding of the trust - "which totalled approximately $80 million in the last financial year" - is monitored by the Education Ministry and subject to random audits.

Mr Key said if the allegations were proved, the trust "will have the book thrown at them".

"Ministers are concerned about the allegations that have been made. They will be calling in the board this week to talk to them about that and there'll be further investigations to see exactly what's taken place. If there are irregularities, then I would expect the full force of the law to be applied."

The trust board said it had appointed an external investigator to look into the claims of misspending.

Trustee hopes inquiry will shed light

Board trustee Toni Waho said he believed about $10,000 had been wrongly spent, and the alleged misspending signalled change could be on the way for the trust.

It appeared a couple of purchases made for personal use were repaid but question marks had been raised over other spending and Mr Waho said he hoped the external investigator would be able to clarify what was going on. He did not know how long the investigation would take but said it was a priority.

"We are extremely unhappy and have demanded the directors furnish us with a report," he said.

Mr Waho did not know if anybody at Te Pataka Ohanga has been suspended.