Maori leaders are calling on the Kohanga Reo National Trust to immediately address its problems, including allegations against its company Te Pataka Ohanga, and say the trust's failure to do so is jeopardising its future.
Ngati Porou leader Apirana Mahuika last night called on the trust to overhaul its structures, to provide for greater transparency and start again after the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) inquiry into Te Pataka Ohanga.
Willie Te Aho, the lead negotiator for Te Aitanga a Mahaki in Gisborne, urged the trust to take decisive action for its own sake.
His advice to the trust was to "Go to the pain". Nobody liked being in the media spotlight but unless the trust acted "it will be death by a thousand cuts".
"In the long run, this will affect the credibility of the trust."
The leaders' calls follow educationists Sir Toby Curtis and Pem Bird who congratulated Education Minister Hekia Parata for referring the trust's company to the SFO this week.
All have been highly complementary about the role of the trust in revitalising Maori language. But Dr Mahuika and Mr Te Aho both said that unless the national trust changed, it could be bypassed in provision of kohanga reo and more contracts signed between iwi and Government.
The trust is meeting this weekend in Auckland.
Concerns by local kohanga reo about the national body came to a head last year when Maori Television's Native Affairs revealed dubious spending by the subsidiary company including on a wedding dress, a Trelise Cooper dress and a Kardashian collection handbag.
A subsequent Ernst and Young review did not cover that expenditure because the company's income, while originating from the Ministry of Education, was deemed private money because it was paid by the trust to the company.
Dr Mahuika did not accept that it was private money, believing it should be seen as public money.
He said Ms Parata was his great niece and he did not often come out in support of her. But he believed a majority of Ngati Porou supported her actions.
The Kohanga Reo founder and trust board member, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, was also Ngati Porou.
"My criticism is not against her; my criticism is against the whole structure of the trust that needs to be reviewed. Unless it is reviewed, you will consistently get these problems occurring.
"The entire project needs to be reviewed and revised where transparency occurs, where the obligations to regional kohanga are met, and where transparency plays a significant role in the decisions and activities they provide to kohanga."