A highly regarded Pacific anti-violence agency has been closed down amidst concerns about using taxpayers' money to fund an ambition to "go global".
The Ministry of Social Development has confirmed it has stopped funding the Pacific Island Safety and Prevention Project (PISPP) in West Auckland and that the agency is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.
"Funding from other Government agencies has also ceased," said the ministry's deputy chief executive Murray Edridge.
"The approval status of PISPP was revoked on October 1 following a period of suspension due to concerns about the operations of the organisation."
Tiaria Fletcher of Waitakere Anti-Violence Essential Services (Waves) Trust said there had been concern for four or five years about PISPP - "particularly observing the amount of overseas travel".
"They were taking large numbers of staff on overseas travel, to the United Nations for example, and doing presentations," she said.
"That was often a concern for us because as social service agencies there is no money that any of us can afford to spend on something like that."
But PISPP treasurer Phil Meleisea defended the trips.
"There were concerns with travel because the Project is going global," he said. "They have been to the UK, to the States, and it's groundbreaking work that they do and other people like their model."
The Project was founded 32 years ago by Peseta Betty Sio, who was its chief executive until standing down recently, and Vaoga Mary Watts, who chaired the board until last year.
Mr Meleisea said it employed 18 staff who ran anti-violence programmes for men and support programmes for women and children in West and South Auckland. The agency also had a Whanau Ora contract.
It was strongly supported by former Whanau Ora Minister Tariana Turia and former Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, who appointed Mrs Sio to the Auckland Social Policy Forum. Mrs Sio was also a member of the ministry's Pacific Advisory Group and was awarded a Queen's Service Order medal in 2011.
The Charities Office Register shows that the Project's income leapt almost five-fold from $583,000 to $2.58 million in the five years to last year. Almost all of it, $2.29 million last year, was from Government grants and contracts.
Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni said the agency was "the most well known and reputable anti-violence organisation run by Pacific for Pacific".
"They have a great reputation about providing a really valuable service, so this is a tragedy," she said.
West Fono chief executive Tevita Funaki said the ministry planned to re-tender the Project's contracts and the Fono would submit a bid to fill the gap.