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Friday 30 May 2014

And the knives came out

It was all on yesterday as the knives came out at the Te Runanga o Ngati Awa (TRONA) board meeting.

After sending an email to the chairman of the tribe’s financial arm and copying in his fellow board members, Pouroto Ngaropo was out for blood and his first move was to ask for the formal resignation of Sir Wira Gardiner.

The former civil servant had tended his resignation at the previous meeting of the TRONA board and decreed that Graham Pryor would take over from him as the chairman of Ngati Awa Group Holdings (NAGHL).

Normally, any movements on NAGHL would be done at the company’s annual general meeting at the end of the year but Mr Ngaropo said he wanted the TRONA board to pass a resolution that it “formerly accepts Sir Wira’s resignation today”.

It was then that it was raised that Sir Wira had sent an email to the TRONA chairman, Joe Mason, saying he would formerly stand down on June 30. The email also asked the TRONA board to consider appointing Ngai Tamapare representative Paul Quinn to replace him as a director.

The email had been sent the night before and Mr Ngaropo opposed the introduction of the email because it had not been included in the board papers, however Mr Mason said that it was relevant to the discussion and shared it with the board.

Mr Mason then asked them to vote on whether they would accept Mr Quinn’s appointment as an interim NAGHL director.

The move was seconded by Ngāti Hokopū ki Hokowhitū representative Maanu Paul. Ngāti Hokopū ki Wairaka delegate Dayle Hunia objected to the lack of process and suggested the director position be advertised with the outlook of an appointment being made at the next meeting.

Chief executive Enid Ratahi-Pryour said the appointment would be only for the interim because the position would be up for rotation at the tribe’s annual general meeting and Mr Quinn would only be filling in for five months.

Mr Quinn has made no secret that he has wants to be a director of the financial arm and he took the position with eight board members voting in favour of him replacing Sir Wira, five against and Aubrey Kohunui from Warahoe choosing to abstain.

Mr Ngaropo then went for the jugular and called for the removal of Mr Pryor as a NAGHL director. He said he could not support Sir Wira’s assertion that Mr Pryor would take over as chair of the financial arm.

“I believe that Graham Pryor has a conflict of interest. I have strong opposition to Graham Pryor standing a chairman (of NAGHL) or any committee for that matter.”

Cast you minds back to March when it was outlined that Mr Pryor had approved a $3.8 million contract with a carbon management company that he was a member of without gaining the NAGHL board’s approval first.

The report revealed that, crucially, Mr Pryor had not passed on legal advice to the other NAGHL directors that warned against the contract despite it being addressed to the board of the financial arm.

Sir Wira posthumously rubberstamped it and so the deal was pushed through. That was when a long-serving member of the Ngati Awa Farm committee, Jim Davies, approached The Whakatane Beacon about his concerns.

Eventually Mr Davies was forced to resign and Sir Wira attended a TRONA board meeting to smooth the situation with the previous board submitting to his aggressive assertions that neither he nor Mr Pryor had done anything wrong.

Now apply to that to Mr Pryor’s removal yesterday and consider this: Mr Pryor was not removed because he had failed to pass on crucial advice or because he had personally benefitted from a deal between NAGHL and a company that he had been a director of but because he is also the chairman of Ngati Rangitihi, a group that is opposing Ngati Awa’s claim to a Matata urupa and other tribal boundaries.

A resolution was made by Mr Ngaropo and seconded by Mr Paul to remove Mr Pryor as a director of NAGHL.

The vote was undertaken by secret ballot with two independent people counting the ballots. Mr Mason refused to announce the numbers in favour and against because he believed that was part of the method of a secret ballot vote and simply said that the resolution to remove Mr Pryor from NAGHL had been successful.

While there is some sense in removing Mr Pryor because it could be difficult for him to remain objective while he was also the chairman of Ngati Rangitihi, there is a question of creating an unfair precedent and also the lack of due process.

Mate Heitia, who was standing in for Te Kei Merito to represent Ngāti Rangataua, raised her concerns about the precendent it would set by excluding a whanau because of their ties to another iwi.

Mrs Hunia, again, warned about the lack of due process and highlighted a section of the NAGHL constitution that required the TRONA board to advise that they intended to vote on the future of a director at the meeting before it took place.

Māori Land Court judge Layne Harvey, who happened to be in the gallery, stood and claimed that the NAGHL constitution allowed for a director to be removed at any stage. He had to reclaim his assertion when Mrs Hunia presented him with the constitution.

Mrs Ratahi-Pryor said she had sought legal advice about removing a director. She said the runanga’s lawyer believed TRONA could vote remove Mr Pryor and that two members of the board had to sign the notification.

While, personally, I do not oppose the removal of Mr Pryor the fact that the board are still not following process concerns me. There is a thin line between believing you are doing the right thing and, then, just making up the rules.

Yesterday, there was robust debate around important areas but it will be tarnished if the board cannot follow the rules that have been laid out.

It is obvious that there has been a call for change from the people but what is the point of making the changes if everything just stays the same? The key is acting in a way that shows integrity and respect – there is nothing respectful in not respecting the rules that have been set.

It has been awhile since my last post to Tu Mai Te Toki as I have not attended the previous two meetings. I have considered writing other posts before now however I have been reluctant because without observing firsthand I am left to rely on other people for information.

This always poses two problems: firstly, I must ask people for the information. Often this proves difficult because even though I am an uri of Ngāti Awa and therefore, I believe, entitled to it there is always the concern that those people will be held responsible if they give me the information.

And the threat has already been made by the management of TRONA if this happens.

This obviously places the representatives of my own hāpu in precarious situations so I choose not to put them in uncomfortable positions by not asking. Also, I do not want to make my own hāpu feel as though they cannot talk openly at our marae meetings and I have chosen not to use information that is discussed in this forum.

Secondly, I am reliant on those people giving me a fair and balanced view of what happened and this is not always the case. We all have our interpretations and beliefs and these can often colour our recall.

I have asked management on several occassions for information and more often than not I have been ignored. The chief executive of TRONA has also taken the extraordinary step of not allowing those sitting in the public gallery to have a copy of the agenda.

She has used my absence in previous meetings to villify myself and this blog. It is not the first time that criticisms have been made but I am still resolute in my belief that, in the interest of accountability and transparency, the people of Ngāti Awa deserve to know what is going on with our Runanga.

And so I will keep writing this blog in my way and therefore I have made the choice to write about things when I either witness them myself or I have documentation that can back up what I am saying.

Yesterday’s meeting was a full one and so as I leave you to digest the news that Mr Pryor has been removed from NAGHL, I will pen another post about the review of TRONA’s commitees that has been conducted over the past couple of months.

Ma te wa.