Brother's waka deal angers Maori

By Yvonne Tahana, Nicholas Jones

An artist's impression of the waterfront waka. Photo / Supplied
An artist's impression of the waterfront waka. Photo / Supplied

Hapu members are angry at the awarding of an events contract for the Rugby World Cup to the brother of a Ngati Whatua o Orakei employee who helped to secure government backing for the $2 million waterfront waka.

The tribe's heritage manager, Ngarimu Blair, was part of the team that worked with Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples and Te Puni Kokiri ministry officials to get Cabinet approval for the 75m structure.

His brother, Renata Blair, owns Strategic Pathways Ltd, which trades as Evitan Events, and the company is subcontracted by the hapu's commercial arm to run the events programme.

It is not clear what the company is being paid, but sources have previously told the Herald there is a $300,000 entertainment budget for the 11 days the waka would be operational at the tail end of the tournament.

The tribe contributed $100,000 towards the building costs and will own the waka.

But it is unlikely to make a profit and various commercial and iwi leaders have said it will either break even or return a portion of the original investment.

There is also a possibility the waka will be demolished in February so the tribe can quit its investment without making a loss.

Tribal critic Joe Pihema voiced the opinion of several hapu members spoken to by the Herald who believed the subcontracting was not a good look.

"The deal was done with little consultation and mainly behind closed doors. This waka will only benefit a small circle of people," he said.

Renata Blair said he "pitched the idea to the Government," but then referred all further questions to the tribe's PR consultant Darrell Carlin.

Initially, Mr Carlin said he was putting together information on how any potential conflict of interest was managed. He has since stopped responding to Herald inquiries.

Last week, Ngarimu Blair and corporate chief executive Tiwana Tibble said Renata Blair's work would speak for itself. Ngarimu was careful never to take part in any contractual discussions either, Mr Tibble said.

Tribal leader Grant Hawke said Renata Blair had a proven track record running the tribe's Waitangi Day celebrations, concerts and events for Auckland University of Technology. Both Blair brothers were good role models for the tribe.

"They are entrepreneurial, those brothers, in many, many ways."

The waka was an exciting drawcard which would tell the world about who Maori were, Mr Hawke said.

"For us it's not about the money. It's a mana whenua exercise. It's an idea that's going to put in place the mana of Ngati Whatua."

Some people did not like Ngarimu Blair, and their criticisms stemmed more from the fact that he was not raised at Orakei, Mr Hawke said.

Rugby New Zealand 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden said the waka was not his responsibility after the Cup but it would be an integral part of activities.

"I think people will be very surprised about how successful it is during the 10 or 11 days that it is up. This whole downtown area in Auckland is going to be very special, and it's going to be one of the centrepieces."

- NZ Herald

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