Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Family ties queried in $1.3m grant

NZ First MP and leader Winston Peters said the decision was "seriously questionable" in the light of other donations. Photo / Stephen Parker
NZ First MP and leader Winston Peters said the decision was "seriously questionable" in the light of other donations. Photo / Stephen Parker

A new agency set up to fund Whanau Ora programmes for Pacific people is under fire over a grant to a school whose board is chaired by the husband of the funding agency's chief executive.

The agency, Pasifika Futures, has given $1.39 million to Otahuhu College for a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) academy.

Pasifika Futures chief executive Debbie Sorensen said she did not take part in the decision because it was "well known" that her husband, Peter Cann, chaired the college board.

But NZ First MP and leader Winston Peters said the decision was "seriously questionable" in the light of other donations.

The agency has funded three other programmes with links to its directors. Its chairman, Dr Kiki Maoate, was a founder of Pacific Trust Canterbury, which received core funding; a director, Sandra Alofivae, is a trustee of Fonua Ola, which also received core funding; and another director, Dr Francis Agnew, is a trustee of Vaka Tautua, which was funded for a financial literacy project.

"It's the frequency of that happening which is a concern," Peters said.

He also questioned whether a school academy could be classified as "Whanau Ora", which is defined by Te Puni Kokiri as "an approach to achieving better outcomes for whanau and families in need by empowering whanau as a whole rather than focusing separately on individuals and their problems".

"It's far too tenuous to be in any way compliant with the so-called Whanau Ora," Peters said.

He said the whole Whanau Ora policy, costing $55 million this year, "simply doesn't work" and should be scrapped. Auditor-General Lyn Provost reported last year that it was "not easy to describe what it is or what it has achieved".

Pasifika Futures was set up in 2014 as one of three new agencies to "commission" Whanau Ora programmes and has been given $8.8 million for Pacific families over the three years to June 2017, plus $1.8 million so far for administration. The other two agencies serve Maori families.

Whanau Ora Minister Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo / Paul Taylor
Whanau Ora Minister Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo / Paul Taylor

Principal Neil Watson said the STEM academy included after-school and holiday programmes for younger siblings as well as college students, and aimed to involve parents in encouraging their children to go on to university.

The college has the country's fifth-highest Pacific student roll (663), behind Southern Cross Campus (1225), Manurewa High School (833), De La Salle College (775) and Aorere College (678).

Sorensen said all conflicts of interest were declared and people involved were excluded from the relevant decisions.

All applications were scored by two panels including staff and external representatives.

"I scored everything except Otahuhu College," she said.

Whanau Ora Minister Te Ururoa Flavell said his officials were "satisfied that Pasifika Futures has the necessary systems and procedures in place to administer its procurement processes and identify and manage any potential conflicts of interest".

Pasifika Futures

• $8.8 million funding for Whanau Ora programmes for Pacific people over three years

• $1.39 million given to Otahuhu College

- Herald on Sunday

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