My inquiry into Te Wānanga o Aotearoa (TWOA) found practices that are unacceptable for a public entity. I found poor record-keeping and a consistent lack of documentation. What documentation I did see was often incomplete.
Three themes were common to many of the activities I looked at:
- poor decision-making practices for significant expenditure;
- inadequate identification and management of conflicts of interest; and
- unacceptable practices in senior management expenses concerning international travel and credit card expenditure.
TWOA and the Aotearoa Institute Te Kuratini o Ngā Waka Trust Board (the AI Trust), a private organisation, have a close and ongoing business relationship, which dates back to TWOA’s establishment. It covers many different transactions, some of which are informal and unclear. I am concerned that TWOA has an unhealthy dependency on the AI Trust. TWOA could be left in a vulnerable position should its relationship with the AI Trust deteriorate or end. This creates significant risks for TWOA and its stakeholders.
I consider that many of the individuals involved in TWOA have not appreciated the need to act with a public sector mindset. While tertiary education institutions have a wide functional and geographical spread and a high level of autonomy, they are still part of the public sector.
TWOA grew rapidly and significantly in recent years. During this time, it did not put in place appropriate systems and processes for such a large operation. Work is now being done on new policies and procedures, but it is taking too long to embed them into the culture and everyday practices of TWOA.
TWOA has enabled thousands of learners to have a second chance at education. I do not want my report to detract unnecessarily from TWOA’s undoubted achievements. However, TWOA needs to bring the same level of commitment to using its public resources responsibly as it has to pursuing its educational vision.
Practices like those discussed in my report can be very damaging to the credibility of the public entity involved. It is not in anyone’s best interests that they recur, whether at TWOA or anywhere else. I encourage central government agencies to consider carefully whether further guidance for, and monitoring of, tertiary education institutions is appropriate.
K B Brady
Controller and Auditor-General
1 December 2005