Waho did not bring Kōhanga Reo into disrepute – High Court

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in the news

The Kōhanga Reo National Trust Board’s decision to sack Toni Waho, a former trustee whose letter to government ministers triggered a Serious Fraud Office investigation, was unlawful.  

The High Court’s decision comes almost five years after Native Affairs broadcast ‘Feathering the Nest,’ the explosive investigation exposing credit card misspending, unreceipted donations, and personal loans extended to staff and directors at Te Pātaka Ōhanga (TPO), a Kōhanga Reo National Trust Board subsidiary.

The investigation included the allegation TPO’s general manager put a wedding dress, a Trelise Cooper dress, and a 21st birthday gift on the company credit card.

 “I am overjoyed by this result,” said Waho.

“My disclosure of the existence [of] allegations to the Ministers of Education was to protect Te Kōhanga Reo, as was my action before the Court.”

In March 2014 Waho wrote to Education Minister Hekia Parata and Associate Education Minister Pita Sharples alerting the pair to further allegations made against TPO’s directors and Kōhanga Reo National Trust Board members.

The letter triggered a Serious Fraud Office investigation and in August 2014 the Trust Board made moves to remove Waho, passing a resolution holding that he had brought the Kōhanga Reo National Trust into disrepute.

Waho was formally removed from his position on the Trust Board in November 2014.

But the High Court found “no objectively supportable factual foundation for the Board’s assertion Mr Waho had brought the Trust into disrepute,” declaring the decision to remove him unlawful.  

In bringing the allegations to the Education Ministers’ attention Waho was acting “consistently with his contractual and fiduciary duties,” said Justice Clark.

The Court’s decision comes off the back of EY, Serious Fraud Office and Department of Internal Affairs investigations with the latter issuing TPO with a warning after finding “gross mismanagement in relation to credit card use, governance and financial management, directors’ fees, koha and financial assistance loans.”

The warning helped usher in changes to the way TPO and the Trust Board operate.

In 2017 new trustees were elected for the first time. The new members include Dame Tariana Turia and Te Puea Marae’s Hurimoana Dennis.

In 2014 the Trust Board included several ‘life members,’ an unorthodox set-up where certain language advocates enjoyed the privilege of serving for life.

“I wish the new trustees of the National Board the very best as well as the whole movement,” said Waho.

“I have only ever done what I thought was in the best interest of the Kōhanga movement.”

“My daughter enrolled in Te Kōhanga Reo o Te Āwhina in Palmerston North when she was one. For the following 30 years my family and I devoted ourselves to upholding the philosophy of Te Kōhanga Reo.”

In concluding Justice Clark commented that Waho “emerged from the debacle as a person of honour and integrity.”


  • August 2013: whānau from the Mātaatua-Tauranga Moana region march on the Kōhanga Reo National Trust office protesting the Board’s decision to remove former CEO Titoki Black. The protesters demand a “whānau-initiated review” of the Kōhanga Reo’s trust deed;

  • August 2013: TangataWhenua.com publishes a Q&A sheet outlining allegations of mismanagement at TPO and the Kōhanga Reo National Trust. The Board, through its solicitors, demands the Q&A sheet’s retraction;

  • September 2013: Native Affairs broadcasts its two-part investigation, ‘A Question of Trust,’ examining the allegations made by Mātaatua-Tauranga Moana. The investigation revealed the Trust’s $13 million cash reserves, juxtaposing the Trust’s apparent financial security with struggling kōhanga at the flaxroots. The Board lodges a Broadcasting Standards Authority complaint. The complaint is not upheld. Native Affairs is banned from Board press conferences;

  • October 2013: The Board files for an interim injunction stopping ‘Feathering the Nest’ from going to air only to withdraw its application after hearing. The story goes to air on October 14, now with new information gathered from the hearing;

  • November 2013: an EY investigation commences, but only considers supporting documentation up to 31 December 2012. Then Labour MP Shane Jones tells Native Affairs the Board should “take the opportunity to renew itself” with Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and Mana Movement leader Hone Harawira agreeing the Board should step aside;

  • March 2014: On the 12th EY releases its report examining whether the Trust’s internal controls for the receipt of public funds were appropriate and effective. The report did not examine TPO, the main target of the allegations in ‘Feathering the Nest’ and "‘A Question of Trust.’ On the 17th Waho writes an email alerting the Education Ministers to further allegations made by another party. The Ministers issue a press release and hold a press conference discussing the EY report. The Ministers become aware of Waho’s email the 18th and Pita Sharples admits that, had the Ministers known earlier, the press release would not have gone out in the form it did. The allegations are referred to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO);

  • June 2014: Native Affairs wins the award for best investigative reporting at the World Indigenous Journalism Awards. The SFO finds no criminal offending, but the Department of Internal Affairs issues TPO with a formal warning and several directives that, if not implemented, could see the subsidiary lose its charitable status;

  • August 2014: a majority on the Board passes a resolution holding that Waho brought Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust into disrepute. He is formally removed in November.

Disclosure: I submitted as an expert witness in this case.

in the house

The House is sitting this week, but the Māori Affairs Select Committee is not meeting today.

On Wednesday Nanaia Mahuta, Tamati Coffey, Rino Tirikatene and Kiri Allan led the general debate in the House for Labour.

On Thursday morning a delegation from Tauranga Moana arrives at Parliament to express its views on the Treaty Negotiation Minister’s decision to sign the Pare Hauraki deed of settlement.

Paul Majurey, Pare Hauraki’s lead negotiator, is also taking a more confrontational stance. Majurey confirmed to Radio Waatea that Hauraki iwi met with the three Tauranga Moana iwi in 2012 and 2014, establishing tribal boundaries and agreeing to the division of properties. The meetings and agreements made the Tauranga Moana settlements possible. Some in Hauraki are accusing Tauranga Moana leaders of reneging.

featured funding rounds

Māori business and innovation.

  • Ka Hao: Māori Digital Technology Development Fund, TPK. This fund supports the creation of high value jobs and opportunities that advance Māori in the digital technology sector. Deadline: 9 March annually.

  • Te Pūnaha Hihiko Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). This is the sixth round for the Fund, which was established to grow skills and capacity for Māori participation in science and innovation and support outcomes that benefit New Zealand. Deadline: 5 April annually.

  • Te Pūnaha Hiringa: Māori Innovation Fund, MBIE. This $3m per year fund invests in initiatives that contribute to achieving the goals and priorities in He kai kei aku ringa (the Crown-Māori Economic Growth Partnership) and the Business Growth Agenda. NOTE: this fund may be reformed or abolished.

  • Customary Fisheries Research Fund, Ministry for Primary Industries. The Customary Fisheries Research Fund is available to assist tangata whenua to manage their customary fisheries by providing financial assistance to undertake fisheries research. Deadline: this funding round is open and closes in September.

  • Getting Started Grant, Callaghan Innovation; Are you in the early stages of, or new to, R&D? A Getting Started Grant will give you a kick-start to help you take your product, process or service solution from development through to commercialisation. Deadline: open-ended.

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  • Trade finance, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. Trade finance helps provide exporters with finance security and advice on exporting. Deadline: open-ended.