Wellington’s wharewaka: how much did it cost, who paid for it, who owns it?

By John Warren, Co-Chair Te Tatau o Te Po Marae (Petone)
and Kura Moeahu, Chair, Te Arohanui ki Te Tangata Marae (Waiwhetu)

As Waitangi Day 2012 approaches, controversy continues to cloud Wellington waterfront’s Te Raukura Te Wharewaka o Poneke (wharewaka). Questions linger over how this building, whose original purpose was to house Wellington’s two magnificent ocean-going waka Te Raukura and Aniwaniwa, ended up becoming a conference centre, café and commercial kitchen with some Maori artistic style.

And then there are questions about how much this building cost, who paid for it and who owns it.

According to documents released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act by the Wellington City Council, and the annual reports of the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust (PNBST), the Wellington Tenths Trust and Palmerston North Reserve Trust, as at 31 March 2011 the wharewaka has received funding of $13.7m, as follows:

• $7m from the Crown, as a payment outside of the 2009 Port Nicholson Block settlement, but referred to in the settlement’s ratification process
• $1m from the Wellington City Council
• $1m loan from the PNBST
• $850k loan from the Wellington Tenths Trust
• $850k loan from the Palmerston North Reserve Trust
• $3m bank loan to the Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust on 21 April 2011, for which the PNBST has acted as a guarantor and is therefore potentially exposed to financial liability.

Further, based on the unaudited financial statements of the Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust for the year ended 31 March 2011, the cost of constructing the Wharewaka building was $11.6m.

The PNBST loan and guarantee are questionable use of Treaty settlement money, and are being investigated by our people. Especially as the PNBST posted an after tax loss of $3m for the year ended 31 March 2011 and its cash holdings have been significantly reduced ($6.9m as at 31 March 2011, with external bank debt of $5m).

However, the most contentious amount is the $7m aligned to the Port Nicholson Block settlement.

Te Puni Kokiri executives have said that this money was not settlement money. But the reality is the $7m came from Vote Maori – this is Maori money.

The Minister of Maori Affairs, Hon Dr Pita Sharples, wrote to Te Runanganui o Te Upoko o Te Ika CEO Dr Kara Puketapu on 27 April 2009 saying:

“…Te Puni Kokiri is awaiting receipt of the evidence it requires before any funds can be released to Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust. One of the required pieces of evidence is confirmation from the relevant parties confirming that the Trust has the mandate to undertake the development. This would include a letter from Taranaki whanui.”

Under the Official Information Act, three letters were released by Te Puni Kokiri – one from PNBST executive chair Sir Ngatata Love, and two from Keith Hindle, executive officer of the Wellington Tenths and Palmerston North Reserve Trusts. These letters say that the Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust (Wharewaka Trust) has the mandate to undertake the wharewaka development on behalf of the Taranaki whanui (Wellington Atiawa Maori) claimant communities.

In fact, these trusts did not have the mandate to make decisions for all Taranaki whanui, as two of the Wellington region’s three Atiawa-based marae: Te Arohanui ki Te Tangata Marae in Waiwhetu and Te Tatau o Te Po Marae in Petone, were not consulted.

If we had been consulted, we would not have agreed to what happened next.

And that was the setting up of the Wharewaka Trust, into which the wharewaka building has been vested.

What is the Wharewaka Trust and who manages the wharewaka?

The Wharewaka Trust is a hybrid trust. The four settlors are the Wellington City Council, PNBST, the Wellington Tenths Trust and the Palmerston North Maori Reserve Trust.

The Wharewaka Trust is chaired by Sir Ngatata Love, who is also chair of the three Maori trusts which have loaned money to build the wharewaka. Other trustees are Liz Mellish (a trustee representing the Palmerston North Maori Reserve Trust, and a cousin of Sir Ngatata), Mark Te One (a trustee representing the Wellington Tenths Trust) and two Wellington City Council employees: Wendy Walker and Stavros Michael.

The Wharewaka Trust has set up Wharewaka o Poneke Enterprises Limited, of which the four directors are Mark Te One, Matene Love (Sir Ngatata’s son), Euan Playle and Bruce Farquhar.

Their tenants include PKR Catering and the Karaka Café. This is a commercial operation, with no direct financial benefit for the PNBST, Wellington Tenths Trust, Palmerston North Maori Reserve Trust or Maori.

As illustrated above, the inter-relationship of entities and whanau groups involved with the Trust is complex. In our view, it is imperative that care is taken to ensure that this inter-relationship is not seen to affect the proper management of the wharewaka.

For some Taranaki whanui, the wharewaka has been a deep disappointment:

• Culturally, it has no connection with our people in terms of tikanga.
• It was named “Te Raukura” for the historic Wellington waka it was planned to house. Yet the Wellington City Council’s unwillingness to allow the waka Te Raukura to be under the kaitiaki (guardianship) of all the people of the harbour, meant Te Raukura remains at Waiwhetu.
• We have no commercial interest in the wharewaka (other than we have lent several million dollars for it to be built) and do not have any property rights. Its trust deed says it is for “the benefit of the people of New Zealand”. And if it is wound up, any remaining assets will go to Wellington charities.
• We were shocked to see the final design – it is not a “waka house” but a commercial conference centre and cafe, with a small glassed area tacked on the back for small waka.

The wharewaka was a success as part of the Rugby World Cup fanzone.

A recent Wellington Tenths Trust report said a brochure is being produced to recognise the role this trust played in initiating the project.

It could have been so much more. With our two historic waka proudly on the waterfront for all Wellingtonians to appreciate, and for Taranaki whanui it could have become our waterfront cultural home.

Content Sourced from scoop.co.nz
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