A funding squeeze could destabilise the Waitangi Tribunal's Te Paparahi o Te Raki stage 2 inquiry into Ngapuhi claims for settlement of Treaty grievances, the tribunal has been warned.
Far North lawyer Moana Tuwhare wrote to the tribunal on Friday on behalf of the Counsel Co-ordinating Committee, responding to a Crown Forestry Rental Trust decision not to approve a request for funding for the first seven weeks of the stage 2 hearings set down to start in March. Trust chairwoman Angela Foulkes had advised claimants that trustees last week declined the funding request but agreed to reconsider it in February.
Ms Tuwhare told the tribunal that counsel had serious concerns with the inability to logistically prepare for and pay for the hosting costs of the coming hearing weeks, in particular the March 17-23 opening week hearing at the Copthorne, Waitangi: "This issue regarding funding has been raised with the tribunal, the Crown and CFRT and repeated requests for a stakeholders' meeting to be held have been ignored.
"The matter is now critical and has the potential to destabilise the claimant community and render defunct the whole interlocutory phase and the work that has been put in to prepare for hearings. At best it will give rise to further delays to the hearing programme."
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Ms Tuwhare asked the tribunal and Crown whether money would be provided for the stage 2 hearings to start as planned if the trust continued to deny funding. She urgently sought a tribunal chambers conference in the New Year to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, Te Kotahitanga o nga Hapu Ngapuhi co-chairman Pita Tipene said claimants who planned to have their heads down at Christmas and the New Year, preparing for the stage 2 hearings, now had no certainty the hearings would start on March 18.
"Claimants have a right to have their claims heard, but they are being hindered at every turn by procrastination and lack of funding," Mr Tipene said. "This is not just and it is not fair."
Trust staff said no comment was available on why trustees had not approved the funding request last week.
Ms Foulkes could not be located and when the Advocate contacted trustee Maanu Paul, he said all trustees had agreed only the chairwoman could comment on the funding decision.