6 May 2015

Watchdog criticises Whānau Ora

9:50 am on 6 May 2015

The way in which Whānau Ora has been run in its first four years has come in for heavy criticism from the public spending watchdog, and officials at Te Puni Kōkiri - the Ministry of Māori Development - are getting most of the blame.

Auditor-General Lyn Provost.

Auditor-General Lyn Provost. Photo: OFFICE OF AUDITOR-GENERAL

Critics of the kaupapa Māori welfare initiative, from politicians to providers, have long held the view that the ministry was not a good manager of the programme.

After leaving Parliament, even the politician who implemented the policy, Tariana Turia, took aim at the administrator, saying the project was poorly handled and there was substantial underspending.

Some of those niggling doubts have been backed up in a comprehensive assessment by the Auditor-General.

Firstly, the office complained that it could not get a consistent explanation of the aims of the initiatives in Whānau Ora from government agencies or other people its spoke to.

"So far, the situation has been unclear and confusing to many of the public entities and whānau," its report said.

The report was critical of how Te Puni Kōkiri controlled the purse strings.

"During the first four years, total spending on Whānau Ora was $137.6 million. Delays in spending meant that some of the funds originally intended for whānau and providers did not reach them.

"Nearly a third of the total spending was on administration."

Auditor General Lyn Provost said: "In my view, Te Puni Kōkiri could have spent a greater proportion of funds on those people - whānau and providers - who Whānau Ora was meant to help".

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

Policy should stay

The watchdog said Whānau Ora had been a success for many families.

"For example, some whānau are working towards getting their young people living and working on their ancestral land. The government spending to achieve this has been small, but the importance for the whānau is significant."

She seemed to be aware that the initiative had been under a bright spotlight since its launch, attracting pointed criticism from New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

Ms Provost said, "I have no doubt that some commentators will make light of the successes described in this report and make much of the criticisms.

"However, an innovative idea should not be abandoned just because of implementation problems. I earnestly hope that those involved with the next phase of Whānau Ora are able to take my criticisms on board and learn from them".

Admin shifted to agencies

While Te Puni Kōkiri is still the lead department for Whānau Ora, new commissioning agencies are now up and running, issuing contracts to providers and handling the finances.

There are two Māori providers, one for the North Island and one for the South Island, and a separate one for Pasifika.

"The report confirms what we've always known, Māori are best placed to support whānau, not Crown agencies," the North Island Commissioning Agency Te Pou Matakana said in a statement.

Agency's chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said her organisation was outperforming Te Puni Kōkiri.

"As at 31 March 2015, (after 9 months from establishment) nearly 1600 North Island whānau had received support. This compares to 2600 whānau that were supported by TPK's WIIE fund over three years".

What is Whānau Ora?

The Auditor-General's report said it "could not get a consistent explanation of the aims of the initiatives in Whānau Ora from government agencies" Just how much the general public understands the policy could be a contributing factor behind the persistent examination of the programme.

Te Puni Kōkiri describes the initiative as "an inclusive, culturally-anchored approach to provide services and opportunities to whānau and families across New Zealand.

Goals include whānau becoming self-managing; living healthy lifestyles; participating fully in society; confidently participating in Te Ao Māori; economically secure and successfully involved in wealth creation; and cohesive, resilient and nurturing.

It empowers whānau and families as a whole, rather than separately focusing on individual family members and their problems."

Source: Whānau Ora Factsheet