Te Puni Kokiri’s efforts to seize control of administration and funding for Maori Wardens threaten to sabotage the role and effectiveness of the wardens, according to the Maori Party.
“The Maori Wardens are able to carry out their invaluable role for the very reason that they are seen as being a part of the communities they serve, so people trust the wardens and respond positively to them,” said Dr Sharples.
“For years Maori Wardens have been selected and recommended for appointment by Maori Executive Committees and District Maori Councils, who are official representative bodies for local communities. This structure, written into the law, makes the Maori Wardens accountable to the community.
“We are outraged at reports that Te Puni Kokiri is attempting to take control of the funding allocated to Maori Wardens in the recent budget, and to manage the Maori Wardens Project, without consulting the Maori Council. We questioned the Minister about this in Parliament this afternoon,” he said.
“This takeover threatens to change community perceptions of the Maori Wardens. We would be very concerned if they came to be seen as unofficial police or agents of the Crown, which would undermine the trust of their communities.
“For example, we saw the vital role of Maori Wardens in speaking to potential witnesses to recent killings in Manurewa – including people who may not have wanted to talk to the Police.
“These community relationships are the key qualification for a Warden’s job, but Te Puni Kokiri staff are reported as saying that Wardens would not be fit for employment, and would not be paid for their work anyway because they are too old.
“Maori Wardens have been volunteering for years because they love their communities and they love helping out. They don’t want wages for themselves, just to have equipment, training, transport and out-of-pocket expenses covered. Te Puni Kokiri’s own record of financial management leaves a lot to be desired – some of this money has been held over from previous years because Te Puni Kokiri did not use the budget that was allocated,” said Dr Sharples.
“We are told that warranting of wardens is way behind in some areas because of administrative delays in the bureaucracy. This is not good enough.
“By the Minister’s own admission in Parliament, the situation is a mess, and we look forward to quick action to restore community control over a community programme to meet community needs, with the government providing proper support,” said Dr Sharples.