Prime Minister John Key has warned that any state-funded organisation found to be misspending taxpayer money will have "the book thrown at them.''

His comments on TV3's Firstline this morning follow accusations of questionable spending by members of the Kohanga Reo National Trust - a state funded organisation which assists children to learn te reo Maori.

Board member Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi and daughter-in-law Lynda Tawhiwhirangi are accused of using charity credit cards for personal spending, including on a wedding dress and gifts.

Ministers said last night they would meet the Kohanga Reo National Trust over allegations raised by an investigation into the spending by Maori TV's Native Affairs programme.


The show detailed thousands of dollars of spending, including Lynda Tawhiwhirangi's purchase of a wedding dress for her daughter in 2011, a Trelise Cooper dress in 2012, and withdrawals that included $1000 for a hui that she did not attend.

The women defended their spending in sworn affidavits as either justified purchases or genuine mistakes.

Lynda Tawhiwhirangi, who is the general manager of the trust's charity-status subsidiary Te Pataka Ohanga (TPO), said the $1000 koha was still in a safe, and she had repaid the money for the dresses later.
Last night, Dame Iritana, 83, a TPO director, told the Herald she was not ready to comment. "I'm not answering any questions at the moment, my dear, because ... we're dealing with it in our own sort of time with our own legal advice."

The trust went to the High Court to try to block Native Affairs from broadcasting the results of its seven-week investigation, but backed down on Wednesday. The programme screened last night.

The show also reported that in 1982, Lynda Tawhiwhirangi was fired from the BNZ for stealing money and served jail time for theft as a servant.

The spending of Dame Iritana, who has led the kohanga reo movement for 30 years, was also questioned.

She and her daughter-in-law regularly used the TPO cards at the Porirua Mall near their homes on weekends at stores like Noel Leeming, Bunnings, the Warehouse, Pete's Emporium and Uncle Bill's Warehouse. The purchases were often not receipted, the programme reported.

In August last year, Dame Iritana bought lamps for her home office but the spending was not receipted.

A joint statement from ministers Hekia Parata and Pita Sharples said funding for the kohanga reo trust, which totalled approximately $80 million in the past financial year, was monitored by the Ministry of Education and subject to random audits.


"The ministry has advised us that there have been no irregularities in this process; however, we will be meeting with the trust to discuss these issues that have been raised."


Prime Minister John Key has warned that any state-funded organisation found to be misspending taxpayer money will have "the book thrown at them."

A full investigation would be launched, he told TV3's Firstline.

"This is taxpayers' money. It needs to be spent appropriately and if it's inappropriate behaviour then they'll have the book thrown at them."

He told journalists at Parliament today random audits of the approximately $79 million a year the Government paid to the trust had shown it was being spent appropriately.

"In terms of the Government expenditure there are no irregularities.

"It seems that if there are irregularities it's with money that hasn't actually been funded by the Government.

"I know ministers are concerned about the allegations that have been made. They'll be calling in the board this week to talk to them about that and there will be further investigations to see exactly what's taken place. If there are irregularities then I would expect the full force of the law to be applied."

Asked whether the executives at the centre of the claims should be stood down until the allegations were investigated, Mr Key said that was a matter for the board, "and whether it puts much store in those claims of irregularities".

"If they do that may well be an appropriate course of action."

He said it was too early to tell whether the alleged irregularities in spending at the trust were symptomatic of wider issues.


Labour MP Shane Jones said the revelations weren't a "good look" and those responsible on the trust should step down. "The kohanga movement has been suffering for some time; enrolments have been slipping."


Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said the revelations were "very damaging" and had to be dealt with quickly and transparently.

"There's so much at stake here ... We can't afford this cloud to be hanging over the kohanga reo movement and there needs to be some actions taken as soon as the result of any inquiries are known."


(According to financial records obtained by Native Affairs)

Lynda Tawhiwhirangi

• $820 wedding dress for her daughter
• $799 Trelise Cooper dress
• $462 on fuel and accommodation while travelling to son's army graduation
• $6000-plus at petrol stations over 15 months, despite having a fuel card for her vehicle

Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi

• $298 for lamps for home office
• 11 cash withdrawals for koha of $3400. Five were for her drivers