What is Whanau Ora? No one quite knows, but it has been allocated $134 million to distribute to community providers over the next 4 years. Will these providers be accountable for the funding that they receive? Back in April Marty G raised a red flag:
Whanau Ora is, apparently, about giving a big pile of money to private groups under so-called ‘high trust’ contracts and expecting them to get on and deliver a whole range of public services that have previously been the responsibility of accountable government departments, or, more likely, clip the ticket as the actual services are still delivered by the State.
What could go wrong? Quite a bit …
We’ve seen that corruption is too frequent when public money is dished over to unaccountable, unprofessional organisations. Worse, this National government is too lazy to act when corruption is brought to its attention.
Someone should buy Marty a cigar, because his assessment was spot on. Yesterday the Taeaomanino Trust (based at Porirua in the topical Mana electorate) was very much in the news: “Trust inquiry as $100,000 goes missing”, and “Ministers met members of under-investigation trust”. I found both articles a bit confusing with respect to the sequence of events, but by reordering quotes from both sources I think the following timeline is correct:
February 2009: “The Government first became aware of allegations about Taeaomanino in February 2009, when a worried social worker contacted Finance Minister Bill English.”
March 2009: “Taeaomanino Trust Operations manager Ifopo So’o was dismissed in March 2009 after he admitted stealing around $107,000.”
November 2009: “When a series of allegations surfaced about Ms Masoe, the Social Development Ministry commissioned independent forensic accountant Deloitte to investigate. Its findings – in November 2009 – were damning.” … “The Deloitte report investigated 10 allegations about the trust and its staff. It found: Two relatives of Mr So’o and Ms Masoe were employed as cleaners but did not clean at the trust. Their wages were diverted into accounts held in Ms Masoe and Mr So’o’s name. Ms Masoe claimed expenses of $3500 for a carpet but there was no evidence it was laid. $5058 was claimed for accommodation and training – but no receipts provided. The trust’s New World card was used to buy baby wipes, lamb chops, salmon fillets, fruit and vegetables. Expenses were claimed for cigarettes and magazines. Ms Masoe claimed $4500 for use of her personal vehicle. Ms Masoe was overpaid for 93 days of leave.”
April 2010: “… the trust was awarded a $500,000 Family Start contract to provide home-based services to about 100 struggling families.”
August 2010: “However, in August another community organisation, concerned about MSD’s response to the allegations, contacted police, who are now investigating.”
???? 2010: “However, Richard Wood, head of Family and Community Services at MSD, said an initial review was carried out by Child, Youth and Family and involved inquiries with Porirua police. Its findings did not “warrant laying a complaint with police.” … “Mr Wood said the ministry was not aware police were investigating. “As soon as the ministry became aware of allegations against the trust we took decisive steps to thoroughly investigate. “Throughout this investigation concerns about business viability and programme quality standards were substantiated. However, the trust took the steps necessary to remedy these problems and, as a result, was granted approval status.”
October 2010: “… Taeaomanino was selected as a provider for the controversial Whanau Ora scheme, in a contract thought to be worth up to $1 million.”
So the Nats have allocated around $1 million Whanau Ora funding to an organisation whose ethical record is highly dodgy to say the least. (A Mana based organisation which also just happened to endorse the Nats’ candidate in the Mana by-election.) It’s not a good look. What do they have to say about it? This:
“Bennett is currently overseas and Judith Collins is acting Minister. A spokeswoman said she was unable to comment because there is a police investigation underway.
Key said Whanau Ora contract providers had to go through a rigorous process. “That trust will have had to go through the same scrutiny that all of the other providers have and on that basis I’d be confident they have met their obligations there.”
A spokeswoman for Tariana Turia, the Minister responsible for Whanau Ora, said: “Minister Turia has absolute confidence in the Trust and is more than confident that a rigorous and robust process was followed when determining the successful Whanau Ora providers.”
So Key and Turia insist that all is well and that the Trust has been through a “rigorous” process. But Collins can’t comment because a police investigation is under way! How can Key’s process be “rigorous” if there is still an open police investigation? Why didn’t they wait until the investigation was complete before handing over a further $1 million? How can Turia have “absolute confidence” in a Trust with such a chequered history? Is this an example of the kind of accountability that the government promised for Whanau Ora?