Native Affairs - Who to trust?

By Renee Kahukura-Iosefa

A new $4.5 million marae should have united a Taranaki hapū. But the project has been scrapped amid allegations of missing funds, dividing whānau and causing a recent confrontation involving the police.

Members of Ngāti Te Whiti hapū in Taranaki hijacked their trust offices in New Plymouth on Friday, changing the locks and wanting their current trustees to stand down. Native Affairs captured the commotion after six police officers tried to diffuse the heated conflict.

“For many years the whānau have been trying to get information from the Ngāti Te Whiti Whenua Topu Trust that hasn’t been forthcoming,” says hapū member Peter Capper who led the takeover. “For three years there has been no financial audits presented to whānau. We’ve had enough!”

Hapū members are still in a state of shock after plans for a new $4.5 million marae in New Plymouth were scrapped and a man was arrested and appeared in New Plymouth District Court, facing a representative charge of theft by a person in a special relationship. He was granted interim name suppression and is due to reappear in court on July 13. The amount of the offending has not been established but it’s believed to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Capper and his supporters have no faith in their current trustees and at their monthly meeting last Sunday they endorsed a vote of no confidence and wanted the trustees removed immediately.

But trustee Peter Moeahu says he will not budge and won’t be intimidated by the group - who are his own whānau members.

"I was the one that filed the charge with the police and I did so because I had grave concerns about the amount of money that went missing from the trust funds," says Moeahu. 

Capper cays Māori can learn from this ordeal by being vigilant about who is looking after marae and iwi finances.

“It is endemic throughout Māori trustees. They are electing people who have no experience in the corporate world. If you don't know how to operate in that environment then you are going to trip up - guaranteed.”

Despite the pending court case and the conflict, Capper and his supporters say their biggest disappointment is not having a new marae in New Plymouth.  

“Everyone needs a tūrangawaewae. We haven't got one and this is probably the fourth attempt of constructing a marae for our people. That dream has been taken away from us.”