Local Government Minister Rodney Hide is distancing himself from the $3.4 million cost to Auckland ratepayers to run the Maori Statutory Board, set up under his name.
Mr Hide said yesterday that he was surprised at the cost, but insisted the decision to fund the nine-member board was the responsibility of the Auckland Council.
A funding agreement approving $2,066,000 for the remaining eight months of this year's budget and $3,435,500 for the upcoming 2011-2012 budget was rushed through the finance committee under urgency by a unanimous vote on Tuesday.
Mr Hide, who threatened to resign if Maori were given seats on the Auckland Council, said he opposed the "race-based privilege" of unelected Maori Statutory Board members sitting and voting on council committees.
He said a bill under his name setting up the board had been a compromise that was politically forced on him - "but ultimately the power the statutory board has and its budget is up to the Auckland Council and they don't have to accept any of this".
Asked if $3.4 million was good value for ratepayers, Mr Hide said it was up to the council to defend the cost, work and committee structure of the statutory board.
He said there had been some misunderstanding by the Auckland Council about the powers and functions of the board, and he was drafting a letter to the council clarifying these matters.
Labour's Auckland issues spokesman, Phil Twyford, said Mr Hide claimed to be a great champion of the principle of one person one vote.
"Yet he canned a perfectly good proposal to elect Maori councillors off the Maori roll, and then installed a Maori board who can put unelected people on to council committees with full voting rights," Mr Twyford said.
Finance committee chairwoman Penny Webster yesterday said no one was happy with the situation - "we don't want a scrap with the Maori Statutory Board" - but the council was obliged by the Government to adequately support the statutory body.
Mrs Webster said the initial funding package for the board was "way higher" than $3.4 million, but did not know the figure because she was not part of negotiations between the board, council chief executive Doug McKay and Mayor Len Brown.
She defended the cost, saying no one had taken into account all the money spent on Maori issues by the previous eight councils.
Mr McKay said a higher cost was never quantified, but the board wanted to make appointments to all of the council's 18 committees, appoint other Maori to the committees and have two or three more policy people.
"We worked back from an initial set of expectations and ended up in a more conservative place than that," he said.
Discussions are continuing between the council and the board over whether the board will make appointments to any of the seven committees it does not have representatives on.
The board has announced which of its members will sit on 11 committees.
Mr McKay said the $400,000 figure budgeted by the Auckland Transition Agency for the board was only for the last eight months of this financial year, only covered the cost of the nine board members and did not include other costs, such as staff costs, policy work and professional fees.
The council is in the process of appointing a Pacific Peoples Advisory Board and Ethnic Advisory Board.
TANGATA WHENUA REPRESENTATIVES
COMMITTEES OF WHOLE COUNCIL
Auckland future vision - Glen Tupuhi, Anahera Morehu.
Strategy & finance - Wayne Knox, John Tamihere.
Accountability & performance - Glenn Wilcox.
Regional development & operations - James Brown, Wayne Knox.
Planning & urban design - James Brown, Tony Kake.
Parks & heritage - James Brown, Anahera Morehu.
Environment & sustainability - Glen Tupuhi, James Brown.
CCO strategy & appointments - Tony Kake.
Transport - Glenn Wilcox.
Regulatory & bylaws - Glenn Wilcox.
Hearings - David Taipari, James Brown.