17 Sep 2015

Asset sale endangers educational grants

6:59 pm on 17 September 2015

The Maori Education Trust has had to sell its only assets, its farms, putting at risk the grants it is required to make to Maori students.

It has allocated education grants since 1961 but after a series of poor management decisions its financial position is weak.

A glimpse of Culture Day at Murupara School, which has a total immersion approach to learning te reo Māori, Mandarin and Japanese.

Maori students have been missing out on grants. Photo: SUPPLIED

Unfinished audits, Government bailouts and failed business ventures have put the trust in a difficult position.

Official Information documents show last year and as far back at 2010 the Trust had underspent - meaning Maori students have missed out on grants.

President of Maori Students Association at Auckland University Jerry Daniels said the Trust's job was simple - to allocate grants.

"It's rather disappointing to hear that, you know, the whole job they're supposed to be doing which is, you know, reading an application and saying yes or not to and giving the money and they can't even do that properly.

"I think that the trustees need to be honest with themselves. At the end of the day I feel like when I read stuff like that they're looking at self-preservation rather than the actual purpose that they're in these positions, which is to benefit Maori students. If it's poor management then the management needs to change," Mr Daniels said.

This week the board of the Maori Education Trust appeared before the Maori Affairs Select Committee in a closed session.

Afterwards Trustee Bronwyn Yates was asked why the trust had failed to give Maori students the full allocation of grants.

"Well, we're giving the full allocation this year, $1.2 million this year, $1.19 million in scholarships this year. That's important."

The Trust's financial statements show that from 2011 through to 2013 the organisation paid nearly $700,000 in wages to just three staff members.

Ms Yates was reluctant to answer questions about the wages bill.

"How about you give me an email and I'll get back to you," she said.

In 2009, a year after Sir Pita Sharples left the Trust as a Trustee and became the Minister of Maori Affairs, the Trust asked for a $1.5 million loan.

An advisor was appointed and a recovery package put in place.

But in May this year the Maori Education Trust sold a farm which had been gifted for the purpose of Maori education. The farm was sold to Taranaki farmers, despite Ngati Kahungunu offering to buy it with its Treaty settlement.

The sale resulted in a land occupation and Crown negotiators were brought in to organise a buy back for the iwi.

After selling another Otorohanga farm earlier it leaves the trust with no fixed assets.

But Ms Yates was reluctant to answer questions about that or the state of the trust.

Former chairperson Bill Te Huia Hamilton has recently left the Maori Education Trust and Bayden Barber has joined the board.