Alf is desperately looking forward to getting out of here today – the damned debating chamber – to take refuge in the Pickwick’s Bar.
For the past hour or so MPs have been banging away about the pros and cons of Whanau Ora.
Alas a highly discomforted Alf finds himself on the side of the defenders of the programme, notwithstanding the report on it from the Office of the Auditor-General.
He has had to smile approvingly while our MPs laud the role of “navigators” in our social welfare system.
Dunno which misguided plonker took these creatures out of the transport industry and introduced them to the Whanau Ora scheme.
The navigators perhaps should be called on to explain why so much money has – dare Alf say it – failed to reach its intended goal?
It is one of the Government’s flagship programmes and cost $137 million in its first four years – but the country’s top spending watchdog admits it is difficult to work out what Whanau Ora has achieved.
Auditor General Lyn Provost also found that $40 million of the money for the scheme – which is earmarked for vulnerable families and children – was swallowed up in administration.
And after an audit of its first four years, Provost admitted: “It was not easy to describe what it is or what it has achieved.”
Don’t forget that the driving force behind Whanau Ora was the former Maori Party co-leader, Tariana Turia.
She had a real bee in her bonnet about this and could countenance no criticism.
Alf had misgivings…
But National threw its weight behind the scheme, which is seen as a model for the delivery of some other services.
The Government has been forced on the defensive, however, by revelations about a lack of checks on money handed out under the scheme, including $20,000 used by Dunedin gang members to buy cannabis.
NZ First leader Winston Peters has also criticised “whanau integration” grants of up to $20,000 which he claimed had been used for family reunions.
The money was part of a fund used to prepare “whanau plans”.
Provost – in her report – has described Whanau Ora as an example of innovation and new thinking which provided an opportunity for health and social service providers to work directly with families.
“Whanau Ora has been a success for many families who now have a plan to improve their lives. For example, some whanau are working towards getting their young people living and working on their ancestral land. The government spending to achieve this has been small, but the importance for the whanau is significant.”
Whanau plans also had benefits such as reconnecting family members and identifying where skills and expertise lie within the whanau, the report says.
But after setting out to inform Parliament and the public “what Whanau Ora is, where the funding has gone, and what Whānau Ora has achieved after four years”, Provost said it was “not easy to describe what it is or what it has achieved”.
“We could not get a consistent explanation of the aims of the initiatives in Whanau Ora from the joint agencies or other people that we spoke to. So far, the situation has been unclear and confusing to many of the public entities and whanau.”
“During the first four years, total spending on Whanau Ora was $137.6 million. Delays in spending meant that some of the funds originally intended for whanau and providers did not reach them. Nearly a third of the total spending was on administration.”
Let’s roll out Finance Minister Bill English for an explanation.
He said it was clear to the Government when the programme was set up that a lot was being spent on administration.
“It was a pretty radical kind of programme to start with and in some respects the high admin costs…[reflected] a good deal of concern that in a new programme the money was used appropriately,” he said.
Now let’s hear from Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell.
He said the report acknowledged the potential of the programme.
“Yes, we’d accept that something could have been done better. That’s a part of the development of a new project but I’m comfortable with where we sit,” he said.
According to another report from Stuff, however, Labour is calling for an investigation into Whanau Ora, claiming its performance “must now be of the highest priority for the Government”.
Opposition leader Andrew Little is quoted as saying:
“The auditor-general is critical of the process of funding families under Whanau Ora. These organisations are where much of the $42 million-plus in administration costs has gone. This process is described as a burden in the report, and it’s a financial burden on taxpayers.”
The investigation needed to cover “how much money is being spent on whanau” as the funding was not meant to be used for operational costs such as service delivery, salaries and rent.
“A significant overhaul of Whanau Ora’s governance model was announced less than two years ago and was said to include senior ministers, iwi leaders and experts. The Government knew about the issues then and yet the Auditor General confirms that problems remain,” Little said.
“This is another example of wasteful spending by this Government when it is desperately needed by some of our most vulnerable people. Labour supports Whanau Ora as a delivery framework, but there is not enough good governance and oversight by those charged with making it work.”
Alf is not allowed to say so publicly, but he shares Little’s concern to have a hard look at the scheme.