Saturday, 18 May 2013

Something wicked this way comes

Waaka Vercoe did not resign as the chairman of Ngati Awa’s audit committee, he was pushed.

Mr Vercoe was replaced on the committee by new board member Brian Tunui. The committee is also comprised of board members Regina O’Brien (Gina) and Charlie Elliott, two representatives from accountant firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers and independent member Peter Taylor.

Speaking at the board meeting in April, Te Pahipoto representative Mr Elliott was adamant that Mr Vercoe was forced to stand down at the end of last year.

Mr Elliott said he and Mrs O’Brien had gone to see Mr Vercoe after hearing through the grape-vine that the long-serving governor had been removed from the committee.

“Gina and I spoke to Waaka about this issue and Waaka didn’t resign, he was made to,” he said.

Mrs O’Brien verified Mr Elliott’s account of the conversation with Mr Vercoe, however there was no further discussion this issue by the board.

The issue of Mr Vercoe’s absence was first raised by Te Runanga o Ngati Awa chief executive Enid Ratahi-Pryor at the meeting with Ngati Hokopu at Wairaka in March.

Mrs Ratahi-Pryor said Mr Vercoe stood down voluntarily because he was getting old and tired.

“He decided it is time for a change. It is time for new blood.”

After that meeting I decided to check out Mrs Ratahi-Pryor’s statements and I came away with the same story as Mr Elliott and Mrs O'Brien. 

I sat with him for four hours in the kitchen of his Wairaka home and I was entertained with a series of stories and anecdotes.

But also during that conversation he confirmed that he had been pushed out of his seat at the head of the audit committee by chairman of the tribe’s commercial arm, Ngati Awa Group Holdings Ltd (NAGHL).

Mr Vercoe said Wira Gardiner had forced him off the committee after he refused to allow Omataroa Trust, which he also chairs, to back a honey venture that Mr Gardiner was promoting.

He was obviously disappointed.

And yes, Mr Vercoe is getting old and perhaps his advanced years mean that his mind is not as sharp as it was but he still has experience and knowledge.

And he feels he still has something to give the tribe.

Coincidentally, however, Mr Vercoe was the person who signed off the controversial audit committee that highlighted Mr Gardiner’s role in the conflict of interest surrounding NAGHL board member Graham Pryor.

Mr Gardiner could not be reached for comment.

Obviously this is a he says/she says situation but I would like to know how people are selected for the sub-committees of the TRONA and NAGHL boards and who decides when the members should stand down.

The committees are important tools in the operations of Te Runanga o Ngati Awa and at the end of the day the organisation was created to manage our assets. Therefore I would like to know that the responsibility has been entrusted to the people who have the right skills and motivations to do the jobs.

Meanwhile, speaking of jobs I wanted to share some news. On the back of this blog I am currently in talks with the editor of the Whakatane Beacon, Mark Longley, about becoming a regular contributor to the newspaper.

My proposal was that I could be a weekly contributor who writes about local issues as a trained journalist and from a Maori point of view.

Mr Longley has been reading this blog and said he would be very interested in a regular column.

We spoke of broadening the focus of Tu Mai Te Toki.

And while Ngati Awa politics will at times be the subject of the column, neither of us want it be contained to such a narrow purpose. Nor do I want the column, and the blog, to always be negative.

He has gone away to crunch the numbers and asked to see a draft column so he could see how I write.

Therefore, I wanted to show Mr Longley, and you, that I could write about another issue.

This is what I submitted:

A group of Whakatane residents have fiercely opposed a scientific trial to clean up the poisoned Kopeopeo canal.

Submissions on the Regional Council's application for resource consent to remove and clean up sediment contaminated with dioxins from the canal closed this week. A decision will be announced after a hearing but given the level of interest in this situation I decided to write about the debate.

The Kopeopeo canal was identified as a contaminated area after surface run-off and storm-water containing Pentachlorophenol (PCP) from the NZ Forest Products Ltd sawmill was discharged into it between 1950 and 1989.

Used by the mill to treat timber, PCP has been found to contain dioxins that can cause diabetes, pancreatic cancer, leukemia, auto-immune diseases and other disorders.

The group of residents who are fiercely opposing the consent attended the consultation meetings held by the Whakatane District Council and many of its members were strongly vocal at the final meeting held at Wairaka Marae this week.

They believe the dioxins could be spread if the resource consent is granted and they want to leave the clean-up until further research has been done.

Listening to their points it seems there is an element of "not in my back-yard" and I reckon they have missed the point.

The canal is not the only contaminated site in the area. 

There are at least 36 sites in Whakatane, more across the country, and the Regional Council is using the project to trial the process with the hope that it could be used to clean up the other spots.

It is something my Dad believes in.

He was five-years-old when he used to swim in the Kopeopeo Canal every day. By the time he turned six, his family had moved to Muriwai Drive and the house across road from the mudflats that were beginning to be filled with waste from the mill.

Then when he was 18-years old, he started working at the mill.

My Dad knows about PCP and has the scars to prove it.

Buckled by the debilitating disease that has turned his body against itself, my Dad has lived with it for almost every day of his life. It is a legacy he has passed on to me and perhaps to my son.

As a result he is passionate about finding a way to clean it up and that is why he joined the watchdog group, Sawmill Workers Against Poisons (SWAP).

Now he is the chairman and a facilitator for the group. He has read the research, talked with the people and heard the arguments.

It is not going to be easy but he says he has faith in the science.

Under the trial, the Regional Council is working with the community on the project to clean up the canal to remove, store and clean up the contaminated sediment using bioremediation. The method looks to break down contaminants using trees and mushrooms.

And it has its results.

The next stage of the trial requires a section of the canal to be drained, the sediment removed and trucked to three separate pits that will be lined with Geonet mat to stop the contaminants leeching out. The pits are then inoculated and planted with mushrooms and trees

It is hoped that the levels of dioxin in the soil will be reach acceptable levels within 15 years.

The process was designed by scientists from Massy and Waikato Universities and the operations have been planned by experts who have been careful and meticulous.

Risks are minimal, my Dad says to me, and the results could be immense.

The time for sitting on our hands is over.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Revelations of a chairman

The man in charge of growing Ngati Awa’s $110 million assets was adamant that he has done nothing wrong despite rubberstamping a deal with his mate's company worth $3.8 million.
“I am not prepared to stand down from NAGHL (Ngati Awa Group Holdings Ltd) because firstly I am here to protect the commerciality of NAGHL,” he said.

Called to report to the Te Runanga o Ngati Awa (TRONA) board after revelations that NAGHL had paid $3.8 million to a carbon credit company without prior necessary approvals, Ta Wira Gardiner’s argument was persuasive.
He said that Graham Pryor was not a director of NAGHL at the time the contract with CO2 New Zealand Management Company was instigated. In fact, according to Sir Gardiner in the interest of succession planning, Mr Pryor had only been invited to join the tribe’s investment committee.

“And if there is an area that I should be accountable and disciplined then it is as we got into period of uncertainty I should have been a lot stronger and apologise for that.”
But Sir Gardiner backed his skills as a chairman of a corporate organisation.

“I’m prepared to stack my reputation against anyone in the country except for maybe Fonterra.”
In regards to the latest revelations around the carbon credit investment, Sir Gardiner said there had been no wrong-doing.

Sir Gardiner said Mr Pryor had been part of the Central North Island (CNI) settlement representing Tuwharetoa and was made a director of CO2 New Zealand Management Company as a result.

He said when he became aware of the potential conflict of interest he required Mr Pryor to resign as a director of the company.
It was a compelling argument and rather than facing any further questions Sir Gardiner was commended by board chairman Te Kei Merito.

But let’s recap.
A report to the audit committee outlined the incident. In the report it was stated that Mr Pryor had received legal advice which was addressed to the NAGHL board.

The legal advice raised serious issues concerning the suitability of the investment and contract for Ngati Awa. Mr Pryor did not pass on the advice.
In addition the report also stated that based on advice from Mr Pryor, Sir Gardiner approved the $3.8 million deal with C02 New Zealand Management Company without gaining approval from the NAGHL board or the TRONA one.

“The director (Mr Pryor) advised the chairman that the board had some time approved the contract. There is no documentary evidence (minutes or other record) to evidence apart from a “heads of agreement” with CO2 that had been signed much earlier and pror to due diligence and legal review,” the report noted
It was also discussed that there has been poor documentation in regard to services provided in lieu of repayment of a loan balance. The loan was not disclosed in the report.

Furthermore, it seems attention from this blog and certain media outlets have got the former civil servant a little hot under the collar.
In full swing of his statement to the board Sir Gardiner said he was concerned that information was being leaked because of posts on this blog, stories in the beacon and a news report on Maori Television’s Te Kaea.

Sir Gardiner said the information was coming from the TRONA board and that if the leaks continued he would have to implement restrictions.
“We are legally required to provide you with quarterly reports but if it is going to result in danger then we may not to be so open.”

Sir Gardiner also issued a challenge at the TRONA board meeting, which was held last Friday at Te Manuka Tutahi marae in Whakatane, that he would be willing to sit down and talk with anyone who had the manners to put their inquiries to him.
Additionally, to combat the “negative” media Sir Gardiner said he would like place half page advertisements in the newspapers explaining the failed investments to the “shareholders”- that is the tribal members.

“But not with the Beacon. I do not like the Beacon. I do not want to support any newspaper which always focuses on the negative.”
So here are my problems with Sir Gardiner’s statements at the TRONA board meeting last week.

Firstly if Mr Pryor was not part of NAGHL when the decision to invest $3.8 million with C02 New Zealand Management Company then why did he receive the legal advice? And why has Mr Pryor not been reprimanded for not passing on that crucial advice?
Rather Mr Pryor was made a director of NAGHL and also the chairman of the investment’s committee following the investment.

Secondly, why did Sir Gardiner not check that there had been the necessary approvals before committing the $3.8 million? I mean that is a lot of money, particularly on the back of losing $5.2 million through the failed golf course with Birnie Capital and the internet service provider company, Go Net.

Thirdly, what did the Beacon get wrong? And more interestingly does Sir Gardiner dispute the latest story to feature in the Beacon about there being an out-clause for the carbon investment?
And lastly, I would like to take Sir Gardiner up on his offer to sit down and explain things. I stand by every factual statement that I have made on this blog and I would like to know if Sir Gardiner can do the same for the assertions he made to the board at last week’s meeting. If anyone can give me a contact number, I would be happy to give him a call and set up a time.

Next time I will return to the subject that I had already said I would discuss in this post and that is the change in directors on the audit committee.
Ma te wa.