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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.


  1. spell check....

  2. awesum Carla way to make people accountable. I am actually glad now that my cousin Brian is on board because he is very honest and will keep everyone accountable. I think that the whole Runanga needs a cleanout. There needs to be some fresh ideas in the different runanga committees and not the same old same old. We are getting left behind from all the other iwi in regards to looking after their actual people and not worrying about trying to make money oh or in NAGHL case keep losing money. Kia kaha kia koe e hine, without you the people would not know what was going on

  3. Hera

    Congratulations Karla on the possibility of a regular column in the Whakatane Beacon. A word of advice - for what it's worth - try to keep your blog completely independent from any other work you might do as a journalist. You will know from your previous work experience that editorial pressure can be applied as to content, perspective, issues etc in an attempt to appeal to a common denominator and so as not to scare off the advertisers. I'm not casting aspersions on Mr Longley or the Beacon here, and as an experienced journalist you will know what I mean.
    Your blog is probably your only means of expressing your findings freely and unfiltered. I appreciate your blog a great deal. You research the facts instead of relying on gossip and you present the facts in a clear and concise way. People need to know what's actually going on! and don't be afraid of writing a 'negative blog'. The facts are not always pretty or happy but we do need to know what they are!!

    1. Hera, as an avid follower of this blog, I wish to commend you for the kerero you have shared with Karla, it is supportive and encouraging and from an obviously, very experienced journo. I have enjoyed Karla's work from the very beginning and like yourself and many others, I appreciate the grand effort this girl puts in to enlighten the likes of me, who without this blog would still be ignorant to the many facts reported here.

      Kia Kaha karla

  4. I stumbled across your posts and am really impressed. Kia kaha.

  5. Be awesome to have a duplicate of you for every iwi commercial/investment branch.