A misunderstanding between the Maori Trustee and a court led to a Whangarei law firm being directed to hold more than $100,000 in compensation payment by Top Energy to landowners in the Far North.
The Maori Land Court in June ordered lines operator Top Energy to pay $105,000 for easement on four blocks of multiple-owned Maori land over which a 110,000-volt electricity transmission line and power pylons from Kaikohe to Kaitaia will run to improve consistency of power supply in the Far North.
Top Energy applied to the court for easements over the blocks, known as Whakataha Z1C, Paparimurimu B, Paparimurimu A3 and Part Tapapanui B4D2.
Trustees administer Whakataha Z1C, while the other three blocks do not have any governance structures in place.
As per the court order, Whakataha Z1C will receive $65,000, Part Tapapanui B4D2 $18,500, Paparimurimu B $10,500 and Paparimurimu A3 $6500.
The lines company tried to consult with the trustees and owners but only a limited number of them engaged with the proposal. However, no owners who did engage in the consultation opposed the applications for easement.
In a recently-released decision, Judge David Ambler said complications arose in identifying an appropriate appointee as agent to hold the compensation funds in the absence of an Ahu Whenua Trust.
An approach, he said, was made to the Maori Trustee but it was reluctant to take on the role. The trustees work with owners of Maori land to protect and build their assets for now, and for future generations.
Judge Ambler said the trustees' reluctance to take on the role was a surprise, given that it performed a similar task in the past in other instances.
"Why is it that the Maori Trustee is not prepared to take on this sort of role in this instance is unclear," he said.
Maori Trustee spokeswoman Sarah Ropata said there had been a genuine misunderstanding.
"The staff member contacted by the court was told that separate trusts were to be set up for the respective owners of these Maori lands, and that the costs for establishing these trusts were to be met from the compensation moneys. They assumed that these trusts needed to be established before the Maori Trustee could receive and hold the compensation moneys."
She said the Maori Trustee had been in contact with Judge Ambler to explain and apologise for the misunderstanding. They have also reviewed internal systems to make sure this doesn't happen again, she said.
The court approved law firm Thomson Wilson, lawyers for Top Energy, to hold the compensation fund and attending to any taxation issues on behalf of the landowners. Thomson Wilson will help the landowners to apply to court to establish an Ahu Whenua Trust over the land.