Monday, 24 March 2014

Te Pataka Ohanga the Tip of The Ice Berg - Just Wait For Partnership Schools

The public and numerous commentators have been rightly concerned about the lack of controls and insights into the use of public money granted to the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust, once they then paid part of that money to a privately owned subsidiary company Te Pataka Ohanga. Reports contained allegations about credit card spending on personal items and a $50,000 koha paid to Te Pataka Ohanga.
The Minister Hekia Parata undertook an inquiry and paid more public funds to Ernst and Young to undertake a review of the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust. That review found no fault and she was delighted. However Ernst and Young were not tasked with looking at Te Pataka because it was a private company. As Ms Parata says:
"I have no power over them. They are a private company that works for an organisation that has a contract with my department that reports to me."
"Only they can tell us what's going on in their commercial arm and they do need to front the public on that," 
"I have no power over them. They are a private company that works for an organisation that has a contract with my department that reports to me."
[Hekia Parata Minister of Education responding to calls as to why she had no control over allegations of misspending by the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust's wholly owned subsidiary company Te Pataka Ohanga ( 23 March 2014).]
The trouble with this is, is that the lack of open and transparent insight into private organisations tasked with handling public money has become the norm under this Government's charter schools policy. As the New Zealand Herald reported on 14 February 2013
"Associate Education Minister John Banks has defended a proposed law change that would exempt charter schools from scrutiny under the Official Information Act, saying they will be more accountable than other schools.
Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem told a select committee yesterday the provision in the Education Amendment Act 2012 was unconstitutional and could be "catastrophic".
Today Mr Banks said there were 5000 early childhood facilities that were not subject to the Official Information Act and he didn't believe the public-private partnership charter schools should be subject to the acts.
"The Government respects the views of the Office of the Ombudsman. However, it would be inappropriate to extend the jurisdiction of one of the Ombudsman to partnership schools.
"They are not crown entities, they will be private organisations - they are similar to the 5000 licensed early childhood education care centres, independent schools, private training establishments and industry training organisation who are not subject to the Official Information and Ombudsman Act.
Mr Banks said the ultimate safeguard for ensuring charter schools were accountable was that the Secretary for Education could request any information from any charter school and that information would be subject to the Official Information Act."
The trouble with this is that how will the Secretary for Education know what to ask for, without open and transparent accounting and auditing? Further, how will the Secretary know that he or she has been provided with the complete answer, rather than some carefully manufactured and scripted response? The public reach in terms of  the Official Information Act will therefore be limited those items of information asked for from partnership schools by the Secretary of Education and provided to him or her by the partnership school. That is a weak protection, and amounts to mere lip service.
So there you have it. The Minister is currently cringing because of the alleged private spending of Te Pataka Ohanga. Yet she has presided over establishing a regime where the same thing can happen again and again with charter or "partnership schools" 100% taxpayer funded but with des minimus accountability to taxpayers via Parliament or the Official Information Act. There's an old saying, "when the cat's away, the mice will play." Without full transparency and proper accountability the public can have no confidence that public money is being spent wisely or properly. I find myself increasingly agreeing with my friend and Auckland barrister Jeremy Bioletti who succinctly put his finger on the problem when he recently remarked, "[p]enny finally dropped. We are letting ourselves be ruled by a bunch of bozos!" Watch this space.

1 comment:

  1. Good piece. Will be interesting (if we ever find out... which is unlikely as you point out) where the $2mil per annum given to one of the charter schools is going.. they have five staff (max $500k p/a) and a $60,000 lease. Wonder if there are some nice new wheels in the carpark at trust HQ?