Sunday, 24 February 2013

Information is power


Once again I am a little bit late with this post but I wanted to take my time so that my approach is measured and considered.
As you are aware I was meant to talk about the Ngati Hokopu hapu meeting after it was announced  that the chief executive of Te Runanga o Ngati Awa (TRONA) would attend and answer questions.

Enid Ratahi-Pryor had said she would like to attend the meeting to “decipher” and “demystify”    information coming out of the runanga.
However because it was the first meeting of the year it was felt there was too much business to get through so Ngati Hokopu requested Mrs Ratahi-Pryor attend another meeting at a later date.

That meeting is to be held at Wairaka Marae on March 6 at 6pm.
Therefore this week’s post will not be about what was discussed at the Ngati Hokopu hapu meeting; rather I would like to take some time to talk about the TRONA board meeting held at Te Manuka Tutahi last week.

It is the first board meeting that I have attended and I left feeling even more despondent.
I have a number of concerns but today I will highlight one area and that is: Ngati Awa’s financial arm will not be able to give the full annual grant to the runanga this year after heavy losses by its carbon credit investment.

Every year Ngati Awa Group Holdings (NAGHL) gives TRONA $1.5 million to fund the tribal operations.
However the group’s accountant, Murray Haines, told the TRONA board that NAGHL would only be able to give $400,000 from operating cash flows this year.

“An estimated $1.1m of the obligation funding will need to come from reserves due to the Carbon impact.”
Mr Haines said the tribe’s investment in carbon credits had recorded a year-to-date loss of $809,000.

“It is expected that the total for this financial year will be $1.9m. In the review by PriceWaterhouseCoopers it was concluded that an inflation adjusted carbon price of $25 per term was required. The current price is $2.35.”
The investment has already cost the tribe $2.2m in previous years and now the Runanga is considering whether to write the asset off.

“Writing off 100 per cent is the worst-case scenario. When I say write off it means that instead of keeping it as an asset we make it a cost,” Mr Haines said.
The report also highlighted that a net loss of $939,000 is being predicted with an expectation that the return on investments of 1.2 per cent instead of the budgeted 3.5 per cent.

On a positive note Mr Haines was able to say that an agreement with GoNet had been reached where the internet service provider would pay for the shares acquired from the tribe.
Mr Haines had claimed at last year’s AGM that the tribe had sold the shares for nothing but last week he outlined a plan for GoNet directors to pay $300,000 for the shares. The first instalment is due in April.

In addition Mrs Ratahi-Pryor had declared earlier in the meeting that the organisation had achieved a cash-neutral position. In other words the amount of money coming into the organisation was the same as what would be going out for this year.

The board gave Mrs Ratahi-Pryor a round of applause when she announced the achievement however only one member raised concerns about having to take money from the reserves to fund the runanga’s operations when it was outlined by Mr Haines.
When Mr Haines started his financial report four members left the table but as he went along hapu representative Regina O’Brien made it clear that she disapproved of having to take money from the tribe’s reserves.

She said she was deeply concerned that TRONA would have to use money from the reserves for operations.
Her point was noted but board chairman Te Kei Merito decided to move the meeting on and the situation wasn't discussed any further.

Meanwhile during the meeting Mrs Ratahi-Pryor said a reporter from the New Zealand Herald had obtained a copy of an audit report that had been commissioned from the international accounting firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers .
Mrs Ratahi-Pryor suggested the board pass a motion to embargo the meeting report until the next hui. The board voted and passed a resolution for all of those in the public gallery to hand the meeting report back before they left.

During Mr Haines presentation Mrs Ratahi-Pryor approached me and asked me to return the report immediately. There were four other people in the public gallery but I was the only person approached.
I declined and said I would return the report before I left the meeting.

The move to restrict information deeply concerns me. As an uri of Ngati Awa I believe it is my right to receive information about the runanga and its subsidiaries.
Add to that there is no legal requirement of embargo. It is a request not to publish the information before a certain date, that is all, and in this case the date is two months away at the board next meeting on April 26.

After much consideration I have obviously decided to ignore the request not to publish information from the report and have chosen to share it with you.
My reasons are simple.

In the past three years the runanga have lost $5.2m in failed investments and from what I can tell from attending the board meeting is that we stand to potentially write-off another asset. In addition we are also losing money despite the chief executive’s assertion that the runanga is cash-neutral.
And even though it maybe the hapu representatives’ responsibilities to report back to the people this is too important to leave up to chance that you might attend your own hapu meeting and then hear a fair report of the goings-on at the runanga. The internet has the ability to reach so many more people and I am determined to share whatever information I find out.

What you choose to do with that information is up to you.

Friday, 15 February 2013

The house that Wepiha built 2


Ok so a German reporter, her photographer and two Maori entrepreneurs walk onto a marae in Whakatane and are greeted by a woman demanding money.
Sounds like the start of a bad joke, right?

Well no, unfortunately it is a brief description of what happened when my cousin William Stewart tried to take some of international manuhiri to visit the Mataatua Wharenui.
William owns a fledgling tourism company based in Whakatane called Nativ ConnectioNZ with two of our other cousins, Briton Williams and Leslie Manuel.

Their aim is to offer international tourists insights into indigenous Aotearoa by exploring traditional Maori concepts and customs through a series of unique and personal Maori experiences. In other words they offer a range of tourist products that include guided walking tours where the boys tell tribal stories and other anecdotes at some of the most beautiful points in Whakatane, the opportunity to put down your own hangi and then share that meal in an intimate back-yard setting and a chance to share in that warm fuzzy feeling that most Maori feel when they go home.
The foundation of the products is the Maori belief in the responsibility of manaakitanga.

It is an idea that the cousins have been working on for a number of years, with a range of skills and experiences they would quietly mull over the vision whenever they had a chance to get together.
Finally last year they got to launch their idea after securing a contract to cook a hangi for 600 Australian cyclists passing through Whakatane on their way to Rotorua as part of 5 day tour of the North Island.

The event was a success and the cousins used the money they made from the venture to launch Nativ ConnectioNZ: Real Maori Experiences.
At the time William was working as a consultant for the runanga applying the expertise he had gleaned from the four years at Tourism New Zealand working as a Media Advisor.

As part of his contract with the runanga William managed the project team that were charged wth the respnsibility of delivering a “world class” market-aligned visitor experience at Mataatua Wharenui. 

The project team, which included very highly regarded Wellington consultancies Leuthart & Co and Click Suite, had written a strategy for how the $1 million visitor experience at Mataatua wharenui should be rolled into market and it was obvious that they had a clear vision of what was needed for the experience to be commercially succesful.
In addition to creating a world class product William also believed that the visitor experience would provide much needed employment for the iwi and provide the runanga with a strong platform from which to grow a commercial tourism portfolio.

However when the proverbial hit the fan, it became obvious that there were those within the runanga who did not share William’s vision and therefore his future at the organisation was uncertain, so he pitched an offer as a compromise.
In the offer he outlined what he believed were the negatives that the runanga faced in terms of the visitor experience including the tension between allowing the wharenui to earn its keep and the belief by some that it should be accessible to the iwi 365 years days a year and also the expensive upkeep of the wharenui.

With an annual operation expense of almost $170,000 recorded in 2012, William acknowledged the runanga’s reluctance to commit anymore tribal funds to the complex.
So he suggested the runanga could ‘lease’ the facility to NATIVConnectioNZ Ltd between 9am to 10am 364 days per year, with the exception of Christmas day, to conduct a one hour Mataatua experience.

He said his company would be willing to pay $100+GST for each hourly engagement, which would put it in par with current conference charge outs of $1000 per day.

According to William the benefits of the suggestion were that the wharenui would then be available to the iwi to use for the rest of the day from 10am, the runanga had the opportunity to earn the passive income of $36,400 and the $1 million tourism investment would be able to be marketed as it was planned by the project team.
It was also understood that should demand for the product increase then Nativ ConnectioNZ would be keen to apply for an additional hour between 6pm and 7pm, taking the possible income to more than $70,000.

The offer was initially made to the runanga through accountant Murray Haines and then to  NAGHL through Graham Pryor. At that stage William was hopeful that he would be able to make a presentation to the board so that they could consider the offer.
However as each board meeting came and went William and the Native ConnectioNZ boys failed to get admitted on the agenda.

Finally frustrated at the lack of traction in just getting time to present their idea, they went to the Ngati Hokopu Hapu meeting in November with their proposal.
Their goal was to seek Ngati Hokopu’s support in getting time on the agenda at the next board meeting.

To add weight to their grievance they also shared a story about how in the previous week they had hosted a German magazine to promote their business.

As part of the day they took the group that included the German reporter to the wharenui to take in the light show and tour.
When the group arrived at the wharenui there was some time until the morning show began and so William and Les decided to introduce their guests to their direct ancestor Toihau, who sits front centre as the Pou Mua, to explain and authenticate their connection to the house, the land and the people of the area.

Just as William was explaining his and Leslie’s conncetion to Toihau, the Marae general manager rounded the corner demanding to know if the group were paying customers.
Rather than introducing herself to the visitors, she continued to tell William off for not seeking permission from the runanga to enter the marae grounds.

Insulted and saddened the boys chose to usher their manuhiri from the marae and they returned to William’s home on Harvey Street to wait for the hangi to finish cooking.
After the meal William offered to take the group back to the wharenui so they could see the light show. However the group chose not to go back to the wharenui saying they did not feel welcome at the marae and preferred to stay at William’s home.

The story shocked Ngati Hokopu and at that time it was undertaken that hapu representative Charlie Bluett would approach runanga chairman Te Kei Merito to request a time at the next board meeting for William and his lads to make their presentation.
Mr Merito’s response was that while he supported the communication he wanted to be able to present a charter for the Mataatua wharenui before William’s proposal could be considered.

That charter was presented at the December meeting and since then the board now meet on a bi-monthly basis.
It has been seven months since William first made the proposal to the runanga and still he has not been given time to present his company’s case to the board.

And while they have all but accepted that they are not going to be able to gain access to the wharenui, William and his lads have continued to slog it out in order to get Nativ ConnectioNZ up and running with the goal of providing jobs for not only themselves but also for others.
They have come with alternative products including using the museum in Whakatane to try and illustrate some of our proud history.

They have hosted a swag of tourists, operators, film crews and other manuhiri trying to get their product out there.
And they have been innovative in their approach to sharing some of our proud tikanga and stories often calling on friends, family and other contacts to ensure their business is a success.

As a result I have been fortunate enough to be part of many of the tours as an extra pair of hands.
Whether it is watching the German reporter put down his own hangi in a hole that has been heated by a gas torch and a leaf blower or collecting pipis with the British backpacker and the girl from Switzerland or even waking up at 5.30am to cook smoked fish and white sauce with the Kahawai that was caught the day before by the American and Canadian – the experiences have been amazing.

The whole approach to opening up your home and delivering on our ancestral reponsibility to manaaki manuhiri reminds me that our culture is beautiful and unique.
It is just a pity that the boys’ cannot use the wharenui to showcase that ethos.

Meanwhile runanga chief executive Enid Ratāhi-Pryor is set to attend the Ngati Hokopu hapu meeting this weekend and along with all of the other questions I have already sentto  her, I would also like to know why my cousins still haven’t been given a chance to pitch their idea to the board?
Next week I plan to give an account of the Ngati Hokopu meeting that is to be held on Sunday at 11am at Wairaka Marae. Perhaps I will see you there?

Ma te wa.


 

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The house that Wepiha built


In my ignorance I wanted to hate the Mataatua wharenui.
Resurrected on the old Telecom site in Whakatane it felt like an intruder in my neighbourhood but that was before I understood.

Standing in the dark on the 17th of September, 2011, I listened to the voices intoning the ancient karakia as the house was unveiled for the second time and I was completely unprepared for the wave of emotion that was about to hit.
I remember stepping from the darkness into the light and the majestic beauty as it swept over me. I looked up at the carved versions of the tipuna that link all of the people of the Mataatua waka and finally understood why the house was built and the reason it was so important that Ngati Awa got it back.

And so it is with great sadness that I approach the subject of this post.
The return of Mataatua wharenui should have been a great triumph; it should have been a reason for Ngati Awa to be proud, it should have given us the momentum to create a revenue that may have been able sustain our people.

Instead the wharenui has become a battle-ground and the scars are still raw.
Many of you may know my cousin William Stewart. With a background in tourism he was a consultant employed by the runanga to help get the visitor experience at the wharenui up and running.

And while there are going to be those of you who will question my ability to remain unbiased in a subject that I have a heavy connection to one side, I ask that you bear with me and listen to my cousin’s story as best as I can tell it so that hopefully you will be able to see the point I am trying to make.
According to William the brief, from the board to the consultants, was to build a world-class tourism product using the wharenui so that it could generate income to maintain itself.

The runanga had already spent at least $6 million on restoring and establishing the wharenui at the Te Manuka Tutahi site and according to an interview on Maori Television’s Te Kaea with runanga chief executive Enid Rātahi-Pryor the wharenui cost the tribe almost $170,000 to operate last year.
With this in mind it had already been identified by the board that the Mataatua wharenui would have to be able to sustain itself so that it did not draw on iwi funds any further.

The runanga committed almost $1 million in a bid to achieve this and using some of the best technology available the light show, Hiko, was created to tell some of our most significant stories. Imagine the Wairere waterfall spilling from the windows in the whare to illustrate the tale of the landmarks that guided Toroa and the Mataatua waka to the land that would become Whakatane.
It was outstanding and the hopes were that it would draw that all important Tourist dollar.

In the past Whakatane has struggled to compete with places like Rotorua and Tauranga as a tourist destination but with a world class cultural experience to complement Whakatane’s already iconic White Island Tours there was every chance that those looking for an authentic New Zealand experience may want to take the path less trod.
And the key to it being successful, my cousin always said, was the Maori notion of manākitanga.

So guides were selected, trained and then employed on a casual basis to institute that belief.  When they officially opened for business in June 2012 my cousin believed they had created a world-class product and this was reinforced by a number of New Zealand tourism leaders who heaped accolades on the product.
However a mere three months later, Mrs Rātahi-Pryor announced the runanga was reviewing the “commercial expectations” of the wharenui in this article.

She was reported as saying that the visitor numbers had not been what had been predicted.
 “Consultants don’t always get it right and in this case the projections were a bit optimistic.

 “We were trying to be financially prudent by placing a financial model over Mataatua.
“Unfortunately, a commercial framework over a whare taonga simply doesn’t work.”

As the only Whakatane-based consultant, William felt he was left with no other option than to submit a public right of reply in this article.
In the end the experience was never cancelled and Mrs Rātahi-Pryor claimed at the AGM that the Whakatane Beacon had got it wrong but the public fall-out ensured that William would not continue with his role at the wharenui and two of the guides were without a job.

There was also a change in focus.
Rather than concentrating on attracting overseas tourists, Mrs Rātahi-Pryor said there had been a gradual increase in the number of community organisations visiting the wharenui and gave the impression that this would become the target market despite the experience winning a national award as seen in this article.

However because he believed in the product that he helped create William offered the runanga a compromise and I hope to tell you about it tomorrow in part two of this post.

But for now I want to leave you with a comment that had been left on a previous post. The author of the comment chose to remain anonymous but I was so impressed with their words that I wanted to share it with you, just in case you hadn’t seen it.

“Kia Ora Karla

“It is with interest, we have found ourselves becoming avid readers of your weekly posts, since the inception of the Tu Mai Te Toki blog, It is a relief to know that many individuals both near and abroad are recognising the incompetency of our Iwi leaders and we as a collective unit, are seeking answers to a number of irrational judgements and decisions which have occurred over recent years.

“If we can take a step back and fully explore the times and reasons as to why the Mataatua Whare was built then perhaps we are able to gain some perspective and strive to seek positive outcomes for a more unified and prosperous Iwi, spiritually, culturally, physically, financially etc.

“Lets begin to break this down where we can form a foundation for us to work upon..and start to look at this issue logically...some common motives or reasons why any person would build a house, is to provide shelter and security for their family unit and loved ones. This house will become a sanctuary, a place of nuture, growth and rest, a physical setting where families can share, laugh, learn, cry, teach, and enjoy one another, a physical safe haven from negative external influences, conflict and hostilities.

“Bearing this in mind, It is truly my belief that these were the exact motives and reasons the Mataatua Wharenui was erected and built by our tipuna, Wepiha. Remembering that during this time, Maori were facing the effects of colonisation, the injustices and cruelty endured by many generations enforced by external parties, tribal warfare where often, loss of life was inevitable and sickness which had horrific consequences as you have stated above. Wepiha, realising without a doubt in his mind that these events would have a severe negative impact on his people, went about to construct this amazingly carved whare to provide a calm setting amongst the chaotic disorder for the people of Mataatua, where amongst the adversity, whakapapa would sumount and bind his people together ensuring unity and strength in troubled times.

“A whare built to create unity and strength for the people of Mataatua who had suffered immensely due to external forces.

“So observing the progressive journey of the Mataatua Whare, the history the story, the tears, the hurt, the betrayal, the battle endured to ensure this whare was returned to the people of Mataatua, and how it is valued and treated today, I cannot seem to comprehend the justification and the absolute abysmal exploitation our Iwi leaders have elected to utilise and treat this whare. Unconsciously it seems our Iwi leaders have failed to remember the very reasons and motives why this whare was built in the beginning, instead opting for financial opportunities at the expense of the fundamental aspects to which the whare was constructed.

“I fail to see unity, I fail to see strength, I fail to see equality as an Iwi.....but what I can see is the oppressor and the dictator now has a brown face.”
 

Monday, 4 February 2013

Better late than never


Ok first up sorry this post is a bit late but I have been trying to hold out for information.
As indicated in my last post I wanted to talk about the fees paid to the consultants that were engaged to explore the option of building a “gondola” that would take people from behind the Mataatua wharenui up the escarpment to the pa site, Kapu-te-rangi.

The idea was part of research into the commercial development opportunities around the wharenui. In other words, we needed to find some way to make the Mataatua wharenui pay for itself.
First opened in 1875 the Mataatua wharenui was built as a testament to Ngati Awa’s enduring creative spirit following the land wars, confiscation and sickness that had decimated our tribe.

Recognised as a beautiful example of Maori artwork the wharenui was taken overseas in 1879 when the Government needed a carved meeting house for the British Empire Exhibition.
It was shipped back to New Zealand in 1925 but rather than returning to Whakatane it became a permanent exhibit at the Otago Museum.

Finally returned to Ngati Awa in 1996 after years of negotiations, the wharenui was restored over the next 15-years. However along the way it was acknowledged that it was going to need money to maintain the house long-term.
So it was identified that because of its assets the best way to do this was to create a tourism product around the whare.

Consultants were engaged to find the best way of achieving this and they produced a comprehensive report.
According to that report four options were identified: create a complex with the wharenui as the only attraction, add a people-mover to take visitors from the wharenui to the top of the escarpment, build a restaurant and swing bridge so that once visitors were at the top they could eat a meal and access Kohi Point easily or go the whole hog and in addition to everything else they could build an underground experience that would incorporate a light show.

In the end the executive board decided against the people-mover, restaurant, swing-bridge and underground experience. Rather, they decided to build a marae complex and invest close to $1 million into developing a world-class light show that told the stories of our tribe.
Ok, with that explained we can get down to business.

When I first decided to write about this subject for the Tu Mai Te Toki blog, I wanted to be able to confirm the amount that was paid to consultants engaged to explore the option of installing the “gondola”.
The figure was mentioned in a report given at last year’s AGM by the runanga’s accountant Murray Haines.  

Last week I went into the runanga’s offices to get a copy of the minutes from the AGM but I was told that they still hadn’t been typed up.
So I sent an email to Mr Haines asking if he could confirm the amount but he replied that I would have to wait until my hapu hui.

“Our CEO Enid Ratahi-Pryor and I will be attending your hapu hui and will be happy to answer questions there through the hapu representative,” he said in the email.
Now here are my concerns around this situation.

When Mr Haines raised the point about the consultants’ fees he claimed it was to investigate the option of a gondola.
The report clearly states that the option was not a gondola but a people-mover that would take visitors through the undergrowth like a cable car.

While this may seem to be nit-picking it clearly shows that there are some within the runanga who do not have a clear understanding of the report.
Secondly, while I cannot remember the exact amount paid to the consultants and Mr Haines would not confirm it I do recall it was close to $200,000. And although I am glad that this investigation was undertaken so that it could be identified that it was not the right option to take before we spent any more money on it, I am concerned that there was no consultation with the Ngati Hokopu and Wharepaia.

Most would accept that the area around the wharenui, known as Wairaka, would be under the mana whenua of those two hapu and to consider investing in something that would drastically change the landscape like a people-mover without consulting the people of that land is beyond rude.
Finally I would suggest that the fact that it has been two months since the AGM and the minutes are still not available highlights the need for better efficiency within the runanga.

Next time I will explore the subject of the Mataatua wharenui a little further.

Ma te wa.