One of Pita’s pet projects – it’s a $2 million waka that nobody wants to keep after the Rugby World Cup

Dunno if it’s offensive to white elephants, but Alf is tempted to regard “white elephant” as an apt description for a waka designed to promote Maori culture during the Rugby World Cup.

The Weekend Herald today is saying the $2 million waka could be sent to the scrapheap soon after it stars as a Government-backed tourist attraction during the tournament.

The giant 75m-long “Waka Maori” will promote culture for 11 days at a cost of $1.9 million to taxpayers and $100,000 to the Auckland iwi Ngati Whatua o Orakei.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples claims it will become a hit with tourists, but neither the Government nor the Auckland Council wants to keep it, so the iwi will become its owner after the rugby tournament.

This is the waka that Labour’s Shane Jones likened to plastic kitchenware, dubbing it the “tupperwaka” and a nauseating gift to a hapu.

Dunno about nauseating, but it certainly was a gift.

Taxpayers would pick up all but $100,000 of the $2 million price tab.

But the Weekend Herald has been asking for documents related to the project.

And on the strength of papers released to it under the Official Information Act, we learn that Ngati Whatua o Orakei leaders are worried the waka could cause the tribe a heavy financial loss.

In February, chief executive Tiwana Tibble wrote: “Our fallback position is to sell or demolish the waka in February 2012 and therefore exit from this investment whilst still having positive funds in the bank.”

The paper says owning the waka will cost the iwi $135,000 a year. Tribal trust board chairman Grant Hawke said this was the estimated cost of storage and maintenance.

The Weekend Herald goes on to quote sources who say post-World Cup users of the waka will have to pay $25,000 to erect it, and another $25,000 to pull it down.

Ngati Whatua expects to know its revenue opportunities by the end of the year, and Mr Hawke said the tribe was looking at international options to hire the waka out.

China would be an example of a country where it could be used to cement a New Zealand relationship.

“If it gets too costly for the tribe … I think we have to re-look at it again,” Mr Hawke said.

The tribe did not answer questions put to it by the Weekend Herald about the “fallback” sale or demolition of the waka.

But the newspaper says the ongoing costs and unknown income prospects are causing anger in some quarters of the tribe.

Tribal member Joe Pihema said that scrapped or not, the waka project had “failed the people”.

“The cost … is not only the $135,000 a year for storage, but the lost opportunities to further our people through improved education, housing, cultural and health packages.”

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, of coujrse, has been an ardent promoter of this project.

Now the political chickens are coming home to roost, and –

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira said Dr Sharples’ “major contribution” to the tournament amounted to a temporary “bauble”.

“The expenditure of $2 million on a plastic waka which will only be there for 11 days, cost $130,000 a year to store and $50,000 every time somebody wants to use it?

“That’s what I call a colossal waste of money.”

But the Auckland experience – an iwi that doesn’t want the waka being built with public money – contrasts with the Wellington experience, where the city council had to fight to get back a waka built with public money.

The standoff there was ended when a child handed over a $150,000 cheque to Wellington’s mayor.

The settlement comes after Waiwhetu Maori refused to hand back the waka, which they had repaired, earlier this year.

On the strength of that experience, Alf had advised public agencies not to piss around with Auckland’ plastic waka but just hand it over.

If they didn’t, the Maori there would finish up grabbing it anyway, according to the Wellington example, “so let’s just give it to them from the outset”

Yep. He was wrong.

So let’s come back to examining if the Auckland waka is a “white elephant”.

A white elephant is defined as

noun
1.
a possession unwanted by the owner but difficult to dispose of: Our Victorian bric-a-brac and furniture were white elephants.
2.
a possession entailing great expense out of proportion to its usefulness or value to the owner: When he bought the mansion he didn’t know it was going to be such a white elephant.

Yep. White elephant does the trick for Alf.

He is sure white elephants have their own expression for this sort of thing, however, and looks forward to hearing what it is.

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