Questions about transfer of $1m public funding

A Government department is facing questions after it transferred a job training contract for Māori to a new organization despite highly public fallout over the Māori Council elections last year

The Māori Council has raised questions about a government contract of nearly a million dollars that was transferred from the council to the National Māori Authority by Matthew Tukaki — with the council saying he didn’t have authority to sign for it when the transfer was made because his role had lapsed after last year’s elections.

Tukaki, the council’s ousted former executive director, says he made the transfer at the request of members of a branch that held the contract because they had lost confidence in the Māori Council leadership.

In March 2021 Tukaki signed a contract for $965,000 on behalf of the Māori Council when he was executive director. The contract was with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment for a work program in Benneydale in the Central North Island and was paid in installations.

In September, after losing his position on the Council in its elections, Tukaki signed another document for the social development ministry transferring the contract over to his National Māori Authority. An associate of his who had in March signed the original contract on behalf of the Council, this time signed the transfer document on behalf of the Authority to take over the funding and programme.

The Māori Council has now sent a letter to MBIE saying the council was unaware the contract had been entered into by Tukaki on its behalf and that the contract was then transferred to the National Māori Authority by Tukaki when he was no longer in a position to act for the Māori Council.

“This agreement was authorized on behalf of NZMC by Mr Tukaki on 13 March 2021, and Ms Diane Tuari on 3 March 2021, without the knowledge, consent or authority of the NZMC to enter the Agreement,” said Peter Fraser, the National Secretary, in the letter. “Neither Mr Tukaki, nor Ms Tuari, advised NZMC Executive members or Chairman (Ven Harvey Ruru) of the Agreement. Ms Tuari has never held a leadership role on NZMC.”

The March 2021 agreement for the $950,000 contract signed by an MBIE official and then-Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki and Diane Tuari

The Māori Council claims it had no knowledge of the contract until earlier this year after a response to an Official Information Act request to MBIE over contracts entered into on behalf of the Māori Council by Tukaki. (The OIA request had been transferred to MSD in November last year.)

“No members of NZMC leadership or [District Māori Council]chairs had any knowledge of this contract or that Mr Tukaki had novated away from NZMC,” Fraser said. “By novating the contract and transferring it from the NZMC (New Zealand Māori Council) to the NMA (National Māori Authority) he was clearly acting against the NZMC’s interests.”

Tukaki responded to Newsroom that the executive of the Māori Council was aware of the contract, contrary to the allegations in its letter to MBIE.

“There is detailed correspondence and updates to the then Māori Council Executive Committee about the program and how it was tracking – that includes the National Hui of the New Zealand Māori Council in November 2020. In March of 2021 when the contract was signed I believe you will also see by my Facebook posts of how proud I was of the Māori Committee to have achieved this,” said Tukaki.

Tukaki provided an email trail from 2020 about the contract to which Harvey Ruru (previous chair), Donna Hall and Eddie Durie were copied. But the email only refers to a work scheme being developed by the branch. It does not mention a contract with MBIE.

In September 2021, after Tukaki no longer held the executive director role at the council, he signed an agreement with MSD for the MBIE contract to be transferred to the National Māori Authority, of which he is chairman. Tukaki signed the transfer agreement as executive director of the Māori Council, affirming he had the right to sign on his behalf, even though he no longer held that position. Tuari signed the contract on behalf of the National Māori Authority. The transfer agreement states that: “The Current Provider desires to be released and discharged from the Contract as of 1 September 2021.”

The signature page for the September novation document signed by Matthew Tukaki transferring the funding from the Council to the Authority, represented by Diane Tuari.

In the Maori Counci’s letter to MBIE, Fraser objected to this transfer.

“By 5 September 2021, Mr Tukaki held no position within the NZMC whatsoever. He had no authority to novate (transfer) an NZMC contract. He knew that this was the case because he had taken and lost a High Court application to try to stop the control of the NZMC passing to new office holders,” said Mr Fraser.

However, Tukaki responded in a written reply to emailed questions from Newsroom that the contract was negotiated with a branch of the council and members of that branch then asked him to transfer it because they had lost confidence in the executive. He did not address the point that he no longer had authority to sign on behalf of the Māori Council. He also pointed to various social media posts that showed the contract and its negotiation was public knowledge at the time it was entered into.

The statement from Tukaki also included a response from Diane Tuari. She said: “Matthew signed the contract as an officer of the Council. Jean Nankivell was lead on the contract and had the mana of the Māori Committee in doing so and the support of the Māori Council District Chair. Sadly Jean was diagnosed with terminal cancer Sadly Jean has now passed away and Matthew did the right thing by continuing to not only honor her legacy but also her wishes.”

Tuari says Tukaki never received any funds from the contract.

The Māori Council also claimed in its letter that it had not been able to access its own accounts from the period Tukaki was at the council.

“To this day NZMC has none of its financial records for this relevant period. Mr Tukaki removed the financial records on his departure from NZMC and refuses to give them back,” said Fraser.

But Tukaki says he never held the financial records and said the financial management was being run by Woodward Law.

“I hold no financial records and I had no responsibility for the accounts. They have made a request to the former treasurer who is currently also in hospital, Ewen Paynter. I believe he has responded through his lawyers that he is prepared to hand over whatever he has should they apologise for claiming [he] acted improperly. All other financial records and files were managed not by me but the acting secretary of council Raewyn Harrison and Karen Waterreus.”

Newsroom asked MSD why it had recognized Tukaki’s authority to act on behalf of the Māori Council when he no longer officially held a role with the council. “We currently have a contract with the National Māori Authority to provide the Whakatutuki Work Ready Programme. No complaints have been raised with us about this contract or Mr Tukaki’s authority to sign it,” said Amy Henare, director, employment programs in an emailed response .

“We are aware of an ongoing dispute between Mr Tukaki and other parties. Three payments have been made to the National Māori Authority, in addition to the first payment made to the Māori Council,” she said.

“MSD completes due diligence when entering agreements with third parties, and we are satisfied these were followed. At no point have any complaints been made or concerns raised with MSD about the contract in question or Tukaki’s authority to sign on behalf of the Māori Council, therefore no inquiries have been made.”

Tukaki had held the role of executive director of the Māori Council before being defeated in the triennial elections, with all roles on the council lapsing in May 2021. New appointments were then to be made when the council met in June to ratify the election results.

However, Tukaki, with Raewyn Harrison, took civil litigation in June, alleging there were irregularities in the elections. Tukaki was represented by former Attorney General Chris Finlayson. The litigation was trying to stop the national meeting of the Māori Council proceeding to validate the election results and make appointments. The High Court rejected the claims and the meeting went ahead, where election results were confirmed. The court recommended the council use its own processes to hold an inquiry into any allegations about the elections.

Newsroom reported last year that Tukaki disputed the results of the Māori Council’s elections in a letter to Minister of Maori Development Willie Jackson, alleging irregularities in the voting process. Tukaki’s name was at the top of a list of more than 50 names attached to the letter but some on the list were unaware their names had been included.

Separately, the Māori Council filed a formal complaint with police in September 2021 over payments that occurred from its accounts after the elections, saying that from the end of May “no one had the legal right to spend NZMC’s funds” until the council was reconvened and new appointments were confirmed.” The letter repeated: “by the end of May 2021, all NZMC office holders no longer held their positions, with new appointments due to be made in June.”

Tukaki was appointed the chairman of a Ministerial Advisory Board in February 2021 by Minister for Children Kelvin Davis. The board’s role was to advise Davis on the restructure of Oranga Tamariki. As chairman Tukaki was paid $1000 a day. Tukaki stepped down from the role in April and was replaced by Sir Mark Solomon.

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