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Thursday 5 December 2013

Get up, stand up

This weekend is the Annual General Meeting of Te Runanga o Ngati Awa and I want to encourage you all to go.

It is our only chance to hear first-hand what TRONA has to say and be able to ask our own questions. Well at least this is what I’ve been taught to believe.
Last year’s meeting was my first TRONA AGM.

I went with a group from Wairaka determined to ask questions. We knew answers would be limited and, at some stage, we would be label radicals, activists, haters, wreckers, negative or nuances. But here’s the thing, we knew we had to go and do what we did.
We had all heard the stories about failing internet companies, luxury golf courses up north only that had crumbled at the first hurdles, castles being built in the name of men and a dysfunctional culture.

Some of our questions were answered, many were not.
It was this event that inspired this blog.

And as I look over the past 12 months I realise nothing much has really changed. I don’t expect to get too many answers out of this weekend and people are still labelling this blog as a part of a group of “negative nuances”.
But ten new faces on the TRONA board is a sign of what can be done by the people and I urge you to stand up and demand a change.

As always I begin with the warning that this is the information that I have collected, take from it what you will and make your own decisions about it. But always remember you can always go to this year’s AGM at Wairaka on Sunday if you want to ask our management and governors for yourself.
This week I picked up a TRONA annual report. After attending most of the board meetings this year I wasn’t expecting the bottom to have fallen out, but I still wanted to take a read before this weekend and on the first look things seemed good.

The document is sleek-looking with glossy pages and sharp images. It pumps up the Runanga and notches achievements from the past year including cutting costs “to bring the Runanga back into near positive cash neutral” and the restructuring of Development Ngati Awa.
But upon reading it again there are some glaring mistakes and concerning themes.

However rather than concentrating on spelling errors and minor details I wanted to start this post by reminding you of Jim Davies and the $3.8 million contract with the CO2 New Zealand Management company.
Mr Davies is a good, honest man who has worked in the area of forestry and farming for more than four decades. Up until July he was the chairman of the Ngati Awa Farm Committee.

However he was forced to resign after he received a letter from runanga chief executive Enid Ratahi-Pryor explaining the financial arm, Ngati Awa Group Holdings Ltd, had voted to remove him because he spoke to the media about concerns around the tribe’s carbon credit investment.

Since then NAGHL chairman Wira Gardiner has made himself Ngati Awa Farm committee chairman and Wilhelm Studer has been selected for the remaining spot.
And perhaps you agree that Mr Davies shouldn’t have spoken to the media but his forced resignation was quick, so quick he that he did not have time to give his last report.
But I wanted to share what Mr Davies had written in his report.

In it he said the report’s purpose was to state the “Farm Committee’s” position on the “CO2 Ngati Awa Farm Land Management Agreement”.
“Subsequent investigation by the Farm Committee revealed that a conflict in fact did arise because Graham Pryor was a NAGHL director as well as being General Manager at the Ngati Awa office. He was also an Iwi director at Tukia , plus having a vested interest and directorship at CO2 New Zealand Ltd, an Australian carbon trading company.”

As already outlined in previous posts Graham Pryor is one of five people on the board of Ngati Awa Group Holdings Limited (NAGHL).  The other members are Waaka Vercoe, Joe Mason, Brian Tunui and Sir Gardiner.
“In 2010, Mr Pryor, with NAGHL chairman Wira Gardiner, executed a $3.8 million contract with the CO2 New Zealand Management Company.

At the time Mr Pryor was a director of the CO2 New Zealand Management Company.
Sir Gardiner says Pryor did not become a director of NAGHL until after the contract with CO2 New Zealand Management Company was instigated. However a report from the NAGHL Audit committee says Mr Pryor was the one who received crucial legal advice about the deal before it had been signed on behalf of the tribal company.

Also identified in the audit committee report was that Mr Pryor had failed to disclose the potential conflict of interest and, more seriously, there was no policy to demand it.
Mr Pryor and Sir Gardiner had also executed the contract without prior approval from the rest of the NAGHL board.

At a meeting earlier this year Sir Gardiner said he had required Mr Pryor to resign as a director of the CO2 New Zealand Management Company when he became aware of the potential conflict of interest”.
Mr Pryor did so but he still remains within a stone’s throw of the deal as a director of a company called Tukia Group.

Set up by the six iwi involved in the Central North Island (CNI) forestry settlement, Tukia Group included Ngai Tuhoe, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Whare, Ngati Rangitihi and Ngati Whakaue.
In his report Mr Davies says Tukia Group is also tied up with two other companies, CO2 New Zealand Ltd and Carbon Energy.

 “This arrangement effectively places CO2 New Zealand and Carbon Enery in control of the group. In other words, a collection shell companies comprising a mere handful of principals. All names are readily available on the register, with one in particularly featuring throughout.
“CO2 New Zealand was designed to benefit from carbon opportunities that may arise from the Treelords deal, or any other Iwi management opportunities that may occur.”

And then there was also story in this week’s Beacon focussing on Mr Pryor and the Tukia Group.
For details sake the Companies Office lists CO2 New Zealand as having a 45 per cent shareholding in CO2 New Zealand Management Ltd company. The two companies have the same two Australian-based directors, Andrew William Thorold Grant and Harley Ronald Whitcombe but Mr Pryor is not listed as a director.

The story in the Beacon goes on to describe Mr Pryor as being the Tukia Group chairman and says the company continued to trade until June 30 2013, at which time shareholders agreed to cease operations and hand some assets back to the CNI iwi holdings.
It explains the settlement with the six central north Island iwi was worth $418 million and the story explains that Tukia Group was meant to be a joint venture that invested in natural resources. Each tribe advanced $550,000 to develop a geothermal opportunity at Tauhara. It does not mention the CO2 New Zealand Management company or its owner CO2 New Zealand Ltd.

But it does describe the failure of the Tukia Group and concerns from the other Iwi about its performance.
“Tuhoe Te Uru Taumatura chairman Tamati Kruger said Tuhoe advised other directors last year Tuhoe was no longer supportive of Tukia and advocated its early wind up,” the Beacon reports.

The story points to the company’s financial collapse as the reason for the concerns.
“Ngati Rangitihi is recorded as having a paid a further $85,000 according to its annual reports, but it is not clear why.

“Tuwharetoa paid an additional $1.25 million to bail out Tukia in 2011. Today Tukia still exists, but it is hard to determine in what form… Auckland firm Johnstone Associates is Tukia’s accountant but staff member Rupit Kshatriya will not comment on the state of the company, referring the Beacon to chairman Graham Pryor.
“Mr Pryor, also chairman of CNI signatory Te Mana o Ngati Rangitihi Trust, has not responded to questions from the Beacon.”

 A side bar said that according to an annual report that Te Mana o Ngati Rangitihi trust, which is part of the CNI deal and the organisation that Mr Pryor leads, Tukia had sold its 45 per cent in CO2 New Zealand Management Ltd.

Now, let’s not forget Mr Pryor was the man who facilitated the $3.8m deal between NAGHL and the CO2 New Zealand Management company. Described as “re-afforestation project" in the TRONA annual report, the contract was negotiated by Mr Pryor while he was still a director of CO2 New Zealand New Zealand Management and at least involved with the NAGHL board.
The TRONA annual report outlines that an agreement with “CO2 New Zealand Limited Partnership” was entered into on 20 October 2011.

“As part of this agreement along with the subsequent Carbon Sequestration Management services agreement entered into in July 2012 and variation agreement in January 2013, the group committed capital expenditure of establishment fees of $3, 186,177 through to 2017 and ongoing annual mangment fees of $164,749 per year for 2018-2020, $198,835 per year for 2021, $87,360 per year for 2022-2031 and $70,980 per year for 2032-2062.”
In other words, Ngati Awa will pay $6.6m ($6,630,150) to CO2 New Zealand Limited Partnership over the 50-year life of the project.  As at 30 June 2013 a payment of $1,912,527 has been made, despite a memo on 17 October, 2012, from NAGHL and Trona chief executive Mrs Ratahi-Pryor to Sir Gardiner that warned of conflict of interest concerning Mr Pryor.

The memo from Mrs Ratahi-Pryor also said that there was a “get-out-jail” clause because of the conflict of interest that could be enacted before December 2012.
Obviously the TRONA board did not remove Mr Pryor nor was he reprimanded for holding back crucial information at the time of the deal. In fact he was made chairman of the Investments Committee and Mr Vercoe, who wrote the first report to signal concerns in this area, was replaced as Audit Committee chairman by Brian Tunui.

So what I really want to know in this entire murky saga is: What exactly does Ngati Awa get from the $6.6 million contract with CO2 New Zealand Ltd?
Other questions on my mind are also:

- Why did the Runanga decide to write-off $181,000 owed by Ngati Awa Development Trust and $188,000 owed by Ngati Awa Research and Archives?
- Was the decision to pay the members of the new Ngati Awa Development Trust, that now includes members from Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, Ngati Awa Social and Health Services (NASH), Te Reo Irirangi o Te Manuka Tutahi and Ngat Awa Tertiary Training Organisation, to attend meetings included in the budgets?

- What do amounts do the NAGHL board members receive in fees or honorarium including the chairman and deputy chairman?
- Ngati Awa have committeed to a $6m ($6,281,000) mortgage from ANZ to pay for the Tumurau farm, which was bought last year - have any other partners been found for the 49 per cent, that NAGHL has identified that it does not want to own, apart from Rotoehu Forest Trust and Kiwinui?

- What services do Mataatua Quota ACE Holdings Ltd provide Ngat Awa?
However, do you reckon I will get to ask all of these questions at the AGM? And even if I do, do you reckon I will get any answers?

I don’t hold out much hope, so this weekend I am going determined to get an answer for one question: How is Te Runanga o Ngati Awa going to help with the fight against the proposed marina and protecting Opihi Whanaunga-Kore?
Ma te wa