Crown pays hearing costs

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The Crown has taken the unprecedented step of helping fund Ngapuhi hapu claimants to prevent a funding crisis holding up Waitangi Tribunal hearings to settle Treaty grievances, due to start next month.

The move follows the claimants last week telling the tribunal they suspected the Crown and Crown Forestry Rental Trust (CFRT) were conspiring to prevent their claims being fully investigated in the tribunal's Te Paparahi o Te Raki inquiry.

The conspiracy fear follows a CRFT trustees' decision earlier in the week not to change a December resolution declining a request for funding for the first seven weeks of stage 2 hearings of the inquiry.

It is understood claimants require up to $400,000 to cover hosting and other costs they face for the first seven weeks of the 21-week stage 2 hearings programme. Lack of funding is disrupting years of claimant work toward reaching settlement.

In December, the CFRT said it had declined the funding request because the application for the money was made by CFRT staff and not by a claimant group.

Last week, CRFT chairwoman Angela Foulkes advised claimants the request had been turned down a second time because funding could not be approved without an approved client of the trust being involved.

And during Waitangi Day commemorations at Waitangi, CFRT trustees Maanu Paul, Sir Eddie Durie and Ms Foulkes had given Te Kotahitanga representatives three different versions of what was happening and why.

Mr Paul said the funding application simply needed to be in Te Kotahitanga's name.

His Maori Council co-chairman, Sir Eddie Durie, said the request had to be made by a group representative of hapu and iwi and implied Te Kotahitangi needed the support of Tuhoronuku, the Ngapuhi Runanga committee involved in the settlement process.

Claimants said Sir Eddie had also said unofficially he did not support the 21-week stage 2 hearing programme, so that was a further reason for him declining the funding.

Ms Foulkes had told Te Kotahitanga to "do nothing" and let CRFT staff deal with the issue internally.

And CRFT staff had told the claimants it was too late for any funding application submitted in Te Kotahitanga's name to be considered at CFRT's meeting last week.

The reason CFRT now declined the application was the result of a new funding process introduced by CFRT, Te Kotahitanga and the counsel committee said.

Tribunal presiding officer Judge Craig Coxhead was sympathetic and on Tuesday the Crown announced it would "make an exception" and fund the first two weeks of the hearings.

"It is not Crown policy for the Office of Treaty Settlements to make a contribution to claimant participation in the Waitangi Tribunal process," the Crown said in a letter sent to the tribunal and claimants.

"In this case, however, because the CFRT decision was communicated just a month before (the stage 2 inquiry) start date the Crown has decided to make an exception.

"Due to the extraordinary circumstances, Cabinet has approved (funding) on a strictly one-off basis, for a Crown contribution to claimant preparation in the initial hearings."

The interim measure was to ensure the hearing timetable would not be delayed.

- Northland Age

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