Putea v Whenua
Poor old Ngati Tama.
A Taranaki iwi has lost almost $20 million, wiping the total value of its $14.5 million 2003 Treaty of Waitangi settlement, as its leaders go to ground following the announcement.
Treaty Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson labelled the situation "very sad indeed" but expressed confidence in the wider strength of iwi organisations' post-settlement bodies to manage their assets.
It reportedly invested $12.5 million in a failed software company, My Virtual Home, which is in liquidation.
Shithouse. Virtual is an apt description - if they had bought an actual, real house for that sum it would probably be worth more now than it did then.
The problem with Finlayson's dismissal of any responsibility by the government for what happens after a settlement is that it does not absolve the Crown for having set up (via their "red book" settlement template rules etc.) the structure in the first place, and dictating (it can never really be a proper 'negotiation' because the parties are utterly unequal in resourcing, the government itself largely pre-determines the outcome and there is no independent arbitration or mediation) what assets are returned.
Mr Finlayson said iwi would never be bailed out for losses made after settlement. Asked if there was enough done to ensure that iwi had strong post-settlement arrangements, the minister said he believed there was.
"Yes, the Crown has a well-established approach ... that balances the Crown's responsibility to make sure the iwi are in a position to manage the settlement assets against the need for iwi to plot their own destiny.
"Any ongoing involvement of the Crown in iwi decision-making is a return to a very paternalistic period in our past. It also undermines the concept of full and final settlement by suggesting the Crown has an on-going role as guarantor."
What the Iwi want - like every tribe - is the return of their land. Simple. Not just a tiny bit here and a little slither there for "cultural redress", but all of it that was wrongly taken. Ngati Tama's total "commercial redress" under their settlement legislation for example is only a paltry 2.6 ha!
If the choice was money or land, it would be the whenua each and every time. The NZ government refuses to do this for several reasons - all of which, perhaps unsurprisingly given the colonial situation, resolve directly to racism.
The bald fact is that during the course of just one afternoon the Finance Minister decided to bail out the (almost exclusively) Pakeha investors and other classes of South Canterbury Finance stakeholders north of a billion dollars based on contracts the Treasury knew they should never have signed. The total settlements to Iwi Maori for the last 150 odd years of institutional racism, war, killings, confiscation, theft, corruption and discrimination - that have taken decades to 'negotiate' in some cases - is still less that that figure.
There can be no question that these post 1992 Treaty settlements are stich-ups for this generation as much as the previous settlements (like the 1920s Sim Commission and the ones during and after WW2) were deals done - often for political motives - to placate that generation; to buy off, cheaply, another cohort of dispossessed Maori. Each settlement (so far as I've seen) gives the right, for example, to the Crown to divvy up land in the settlement area to other tribes! How is a continued confiscation mechanism that undermines the Mana Whenua of a tribe just and fair? The NZ government's insistance on a "full and final" legal fiction is, to borrow a phrase, a simple nullity.
The issue of insufficient redress negating notions of "full and final" are contained in the Ngati Tama legislation. Section 6:
The Crown acknowledges that despite previous efforts made in the twentieth century, including those of the Sim Commission, it has failed to deal in an appropriate way with the grievances of Ngati Tama. In particular, the payments made under the Taranaki Maori Claims Settlement Act 1944 did not sufficiently address the grievances of Ngati Tama.
And by the same rationale who is to say what was agreed in this generation will not also be viewed as incomplete by the next? They - like everyone else - would far rather prefer the land back.
By refusing to return any substantial blocks of land and making claimant groups take the money the government is setting the scene for investment failure such as what has occured with Ngati Tama. Smaller Iwi especially cannot be expected to have robust accountability mechanisms and the depth of acumen that others have - and the government, surely, has a duty to ensure they are able to manage that settlement fund adequately. Land on the other hand, when put into Maori title, does have some safeguards (even if it is not total as the Matauri X case showed).
If South Canterbury bloody Finance (against all reasonable advice) can partake in a Crown guarantee scheme to protect their investments then why can't an Iwi forced to take the money by the Crown be guaranteed in some form?
Finlayson may want the government's hands to remain clean, but every settlement invloves reciprocity and a continued relationship.