Iwi leaders call taihoa on river funds

Te Arawa iwi leaders are calling on the Government to freeze future treaty payments to a Rotorua-based iwi trust after millions of dollars of iwi money could be lost.

The Te Arawa River Iwi Trust (TARIT) is tasked with restoring the health and wellbeing to a section of the Waikato River, and has so far received a little over $10 million with the promise of just under $20 million more.

But it was revealed two years ago that nearly $1 million of those funds had been invested in a start-up whitebait company.

At the time, a group of iwi leaders - including Sir Toby Curtis - raised concerns, writing to Government ministers troubled with the way iwi money was being invested and who was benefiting from it.

The chairman of TARIT is Roger Pikia. The group were angry Mr Pikia had personally benefited from TARIT's investments when he received shares himself for raising capital for the whitebait business.

But TARIT's investment has grown since then. It now has spent more than $2 million buying shares in the food project. Another trust which Mr Pikia also chairs, Tahu Whāoa, has loaned at least $600,000 while Rotorua-based iwi trust Rotoiti 15 and a partner has invested more than $2 million as well.

Depending on how the receivership unfolds, some of these trusts stand to lose the whole of their investments.

Despite the call from iwi leaders to intervene, Minister for Crown Māori Relations Kelvin Davis isn't keen. He says the Crown can't just step in when things aren't going well.

Iwi leader Maanu Paul is furious the trusts stand to lose. Mr Paul says the Government needs to reconcile deeds of settlements and make them fit for purpose.

Mr Davis told The Hui iwi members can hold their leaders to account under the current set ups.

But Maanu Paul and Sir Toby disagree. They say they raised the flag two years ago, and since then they've been stuck waiting for different authorities, including the Serious Fraud Office, to complete investigations.

New Zealand Premium Whitebait Limited went into receivership last month, but CEO Jeremy Gardiner declined to comment on the receivership.

A shareholder Crete Wana told The Hui he wasn't happy as he had sunk $50,000 of his own money into the whitebait company. He didn't know if he'd recover any of his investment, but isn't holding out hope.

The Hui