Auditor-General's overview

Four initiatives supporting improved outcomes for Māori.

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā karangarangatanga maha o te motu, tēnā koutou.

The public sector has an important role in supporting a successful and effective relationship between Māori and the Crown and contributing to improved outcomes for Māori.

Supporting improved outcomes and well-being for Māori is a priority for the Government. In the first Wellbeing Budget in 2019, the Government made targeted support for Māori aspirations one of its top priorities. In subsequent Budgets, the Government made significant funding commitments for improving outcomes for Māori, including over $900 million in 2020 and more than $1 billion in both 2021 and 2022.

Previous work by my Office looking at Government spending has shown that it can be difficult to see how much has been spent on individual initiatives and what has been achieved with that spending.

I wanted to understand how public organisations are using funding that has been committed specifically to support improved outcomes for Māori, and what has been achieved as a result. I wanted to see what public organisations are doing well, understand the challenges they face in delivering these types of initiatives, and identify practices that could improve or be shared more broadly across the public sector.

My staff looked at three agencies and four initiatives that aim to support improved outcomes for Māori, and which have received new or increased funding in recent years. The four initiatives we selected are:

  • He Poutama Rangatahi;
  • The Māori Agribusiness Extension Programme (MABx);
  • Te Ahu o te Reo Māori; and
  • Whānau Engagement.

He Poutama Rangatahi is administered by the Ministry of Social Development and MABx is administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries. Both Te Ahu o te Reo Māori and Whānau Engagement are administered by the Ministry of Education.

What we found

Although there is some room for improvement, overall the funding was spent as intended and there are elements of good practice that could be applied more widely in the public sector.

The public organisations administering these initiatives provided a strong rationale for why each initiative was needed and why the approach they proposed would work well. The organisations have also described the high-level outcomes they are seeking to achieve from the initiatives. They have specified more detailed outputs, impacts, and outcomes in funding agreements with individual iwi, the people contracted to provide services on the public organisations' behalf (service providers), and others connected to the initiatives.

A critical success factor that the initiatives had in common was the strength of relationships between public organisations and Māori involved in each initiative. The engagement between the parties demonstrated a strong sense of mutual trust. As a result, we heard positive feedback from Māori about what the initiatives are trying to achieve and the way public organisations engaged with them to design and deliver the initiatives.

The public organisations we spoke to had designed the initiatives with the aim of supporting the principle of rangatiratanga, or self-determination. All four initiatives are based on the idea that Māori know what works best for Māori. In practice, this has included supporting iwi, Māori landowners, and service providers to design and implement each initiative in a way that suits local communities and their needs.

Building effective and enduring relationships takes time. Public organisations should make sure they factor this time into their planning. Some of the public organisations we spoke with told us they needed longer than planned to build relationships for some of the initiatives and those initiatives were delayed as a result. Ministers and the public want, quite rightly, to see timely results for the investments being made. However, that expectation needs to be set against a realistic plan. In my experience, too many initiatives fail or are compromised because they do not factor in enough time to meaningfully and authentically engage with those they are looking to work with.

Public organisations have relied on staff with local knowledge and connections to build and strengthen relationships with Māori. Many of these staff are Māori and can face additional pressures compared to non-Māori colleagues. This can include tension between their iwi and the public organisation they work for. Some Māori staff could have a real or perceived conflict of interest that needs to be appropriately managed. It can also include being expected to take on additional tasks that call on their knowledge of tikanga or te reo Māori. It is important that public organisations acknowledge these pressures and engage with their Māori staff to understand how best to support them. This might include employing dedicated staff to take on some of these responsibilities.

Engaging with public organisations can also put pressure on iwi and service providers. Some receive frequent requests for their input and involvement, but many have limited capacity. In the last few years their capacity has been stretched even more because they are supporting their communities with Covid-19-related issues. Public organisations can help to reduce the burden on iwi and service providers by improving co-ordination across their different areas of work to ensure that efforts are well aligned and reduce duplication (for example, by consolidating reporting requirements across all their contracts with each iwi or provider).

Although we have seen much that is encouraging in the work done to date, the ultimate test is whether the initiatives deliver the outcomes that were intended. I expect public organisations to hold themselves to account and be publicly accountable for the funding they administer and to provide evidence to Parliament and the public of the value obtained from that funding.

In my view, the public organisations involved in these initiatives are not yet doing enough to fulfil this expectation. Of the four initiatives we looked at, only one has had its budgeted and actual spending disclosed in public accountability documents.

We heard anecdotally that all four initiatives have made a positive difference, which is encouraging. We did not see this adequately reflected in reporting. Reporting has been focused on the progress that has been made in contracting providers and enrolling participants, and some anecdotal accounts of peoples' experiences. These are important, but are not enough to meet the fundamental requirement that Parliament and the public can understand what has been achieved and what value has been derived.

This concern is not unique to the initiatives discussed in this report. I have written extensively about my concerns that reporting on new initiatives is not currently adequate to provide Parliament and the public with the information needed to hold the Government to account for the spending of public money.

It is important to acknowledge that these initiatives are not representative of all the ways public organisations work with and for Māori. I encourage all public organisations to consider and apply the findings of this audit to the work they are doing to support improved outcomes for Māori. In particular, I would like to see all public organisations building effective relationships so that iwi and Māori have better experiences with other Government initiatives.

During our audit, iwi, service providers, landowners, and the public organisations we engaged with were working under challenging circumstances, responding to outbreaks of Covid-19.

I acknowledge the additional effort needed to engage with my staff during this time, including the willingness of iwi, service providers, and landowners to speak with us online, and for openly sharing their experiences of working with public organisations to deliver these initiatives.

I also thank the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry for Primary Industries for their support and co-operation during this challenging time.

The Deputy Auditor-General, Andrew McConnell, was previously the Acting Deputy Director-General Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service, and prior to that was the Deputy Director-General Compliance and Governance and Director Māori Agribusiness at the Ministry for Primary Industries. He was appointed to the Deputy Auditor-General role after the fieldwork for this audit was completed and has not been involved with any aspect of this report.

Nāku noa, nā

John Ryan
Controller and Auditor-General | Tumuaki o te Mana Arotake

25 May 2023