9 Mar 2013

Funding headaches for Ngapuhi over tribunal hearings

9:31 am on 9 March 2013

Uncertainty over funding is causing stress for Ngapuhi land claimants as they prepare for Waitangi Tribunal hearings.

The Tribunal begins its Paparahi o Te Raki inquiry, covering much of Northland, this month. The iwi has been working towards the hearings since 2010.

However the Government has had to step in and pay for them after the Crown Forestry Rental Trust refused.

By the time the Government offered to pick up the tab for two weeks, the Waitangi Copthorne hotel was no longer available and another venue had to be found.

The first week will now be held in a marquee on the Waitangi marae from 19 March. However, another 19 weeks of testimony will follow.

Labour List MP Shane Jones said the trust has been petty in refusing to pay for the hearings.

The Crown Forestry Rental Trust has been paying for iwi to research and present their claims to the Tribunal since 1989.

The money has come from accumulated rentals on forestry land wrongly acquired by the Crown and set aside for return to Maori.

The trust explained its decision not to fund the northern hearings saying that in the co-chairs' view its deeds prevent it making payments to anyone unless the application has been made by an approved client, which is a group representative of the hapu and iwi and approved by the trust.

"The co-chairs await the formation of an appropriate body competent to lead the funding applications on behalf of the iwi," it said in a statement

The trust said in the Ngapuhi case the funding application came from its staff on behalf of claimants and that was not acceptable.

The claimants say the trust has never imposed that condition on iwi in the past and it has picked a bad time to re-interpret its deed.