Different but equally fascinating accounts of what’s happening at Te Papa have been published in the last 24 hours.
Following last night’s news about the sudden departure of chief executive Mike Houlihan, TV3 reporter Tova O’Brien revealed that the museum is undergoing a financial investigation. She named the entities which are doing the work:
Independent accountants PriceWaterhouse Coopers and project managers Tregaskis Brown have been brought in to look at the national museum’s books and investigate if it is properly managing its finances.
In the DomPost this morning, Te Papa chairman Evan Williams denies that there are financial difficulties. But he doesn’t deny the rumours.
In a report from Dave Burgess, he’s quoted as saying:
“The rumours that Te Papa is in some sort of financial difficulty, or is insolvent, or has auditors in, or some suggestions of statutory management, are simply not true. In any respect they are not true. The board had sought advice from external consultants as they built new financial systems. There have been advisers in the building, there are advisers in the building all the time. We have regular visits from Audit New Zealand in a regular way. There is nothing irregular going on.” Te Papa had “recently implemented tighter expenditure controls” that were “perfectly proper and perfectly sensible”.
Mr Williams told the DomPost that departure of Mike Houlihan was “an entirely separate matter” to his performance as chief executive at Te Papa. In a TV3 interview broadcast at 6pm last night, he was questioned about Mr Houlihan’s performance. His reply: “There’s nothing in particular that I need to explain to you. It’s not an issue that’s relevant any more.” His response raises more issues than it answers. The chief executive’s performance had been an issue?
Mr Houlihan is being moved to a new job at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Though there’s no such announcement on the ministry’s website this morning, there was a press release last night saying he’ll be starting on May 12 as a Special Adviser on Military Heritage. It’s referred to as a secondment, but he won’t be returning to Te Papa. A new chief executive is to be sought.
More light needs to be shed on the situation at Te Papa. Not only for taxpayers, but also for Wellington ratepayers who make a large annual contribution to its budget. As local MP Grant Robertson tweeted last night: Trouble at Te Papa. Major questions for Chris Finlayson. How did things get this bad?
An even more pointed question from Hamish Keith: Te Papa is not Wellington’s museum. It holds the national collections and the nation is owed an explanation of what is going on there.
January 2010: Houlihan chosen for “distinguished record of leadership”
April 2012: Te Papa versus the WCC