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Regional | Waipareira Trust

Waipareira’s controversial campaign loan repaid, executive salaries skyrocket

Waipareira Trust chief executive John Tamihere has repaid a contentious loan used to fund his political campaigns, but regulatory investigations triggered four years ago by the electoral donations later converted to the loans remain ongoing.

Financial statements also show pay for senior managers at the West Auckland social services provider nearly doubled over the past year to make them New Zealand’s highest-paid charity executives.

Waipareira has been in a long-running and bitter dispute with Charities Services over the provision of $385,307 in charitable funding for Tamihere’s campaigns for Auckland Mayor in 2019 and for Te Pāti Māori’s (TPM) campaign at the general election. Tamihere also serves as TPM president.

The regulator has been insistent that long-established case law prohibits charitable funds being used for political purposes and in February 2023 demanded the funding - treated by Waipareira as an $385,307 interest-free loan to Tamihere - be repaid or subject to commercial rates of interest.

In August, Charities Services remained in the dark as to the status of the loan or whether its demands had been acted on. Questions at the time from the Herald to Tamihere about the loan also went unanswered.

Waipareira’s annual report for the year to June 30, 2023, filed late last year to the Charities Register, said the loan was subject to interest from February 9 and fully repaid on May 31.

Waipareira’s annual report shows chief executive John Tamihere repaid a political campaign loan on May 31.

Charlotte Stanley, the general manager of Charities Services at the Department of Internal Affairs, said despite the loan repayment its probe into Waipareira - first begun in 2019 - was ongoing: “Our investigation is progressing well but we cannot comment further at this time.”

While Waipareira’s accounts show the repayment of the loan, they also show a contemporaneous 77 per cent increase in average pay for the charity’s key managers.

Waipareira’s annual report records 13.3 fulltime-equivalent senior management personnel - the most senior of whom is chief executive John Tamihere - were paid an average of $510,679 per annum.

Waipareira’s annual report shows a 77 per cent increase in average executive pay.

Herald survey of executive pay rates at large New Zealand charities (defined as registered charities with both assets and annual revenues exceeding $70 million) put Waipareira in clear first place, well ahead of second-placed University of Auckland.

The country’s largest university recorded 7.5 key management staff earning an average of $428,000 per annum. The organisation is larger than Waipareira in terms of asset base, staff levels, and annual revenues.

Waipareira’s average executive remuneration now appears to exceed that of Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.

Asked about the nation-leading executive pay rates and what explained the 77 per cent annual increase, Tamihere cautioned: “Do not apply judgment on a one-off year”, but declined to provide further explanation.

“You have raised a number of questions that affect a number of individuals and their remuneration packages along with restructuring individual but several employees taking into account a one-off year. As you are aware there will not be a particularised response in that regard,” he said.

Tamihere also accused the Herald of running an “anti-Māori pogrom”.

Waipareira chairman Raymond Hall, whose board signs off on its annual reports, also declined an opportunity to comment.

Charities Services’ Stanley would not directly comment on Waipareira’s recently disclosed executive pay but said: “Charities are self-governing entities and ultimately charities are responsible for decisions on salaries; however, we can consider salaries when carrying out investigations. We provide general guidance that payments must be reasonable and not more than the market rate.”

Charities lawyer Sue Barker said she was unaware of any other New Zealand charities paying executives more than $500,000 per annum.

“No, that’s huge. That’s really huge,” Barker said.

“When I’d be advising charities they normally do a survey of executive remuneration. You can kind of place it in context of the market. It is normally very important that salaries are made at market value,” she said.

“The question is, as a matter of charities law, can this be justified as in the best interest of their charitable purpose?”

Josie Pagani, the chief executive of charity ChildFund, yesterday told Newstalk ZB’s Heather Du du Plessis-Allan it was important charities paid people what they were worth.

“If you compare the wages and salaries to cabinet members, frankly Waipareira during the pandemic, thank god they got those vaccines out to their Māori communities. They had to take the damn Government to court to do it,” she said.

“Actually, Waipareira do a better job than the government when it comes to delivering services to Māori in Auckland.”

Louise Upston, the newly appointed minister for the community and voluntary sector, said Charities Services carried out its operations “independently of ministerial direction” but she was kept aware on developments “at a high level” under the “no surprises” policy.

“The Charities Services website outlines what constitutes a reasonable payment, including that they should not exceed market rates. They would be best placed to make this determination regarding the Waipareira Trust, in their role as regulator for the charitable sector,” Upston said.

“In a general sense, I would expect all charities to comply with their obligations and guidance from Charities Services, and for enforcement action to be taken where appropriate.”

Tamihere had made criticising high salaries a plank of his ultimately unsuccessful bid for Auckland Mayor in 2019.

In a 2018 column for the Herald foreshadowing his tilt for the mayoralty entitled “I’ve had enough of faceless well-paid bureaucrats”, he listed a range of public sector bosses and their pay bands, alongside their agencies’ budget and staffing levels.

Early in the mayoral campaign, Tamihere put out a press release pledging to crack down on high salaries at the Auckland Council, defined as more than $200,000 per annum, suggesting these roles should be on short-term contracts.

“New appointments to council executive positions on a salary of $200k+ must be prudent and I suggest those people are only appointed on a 24-month contract,” he then said.

Annual reports for Waipareira from this time, the year to June 30, 2019, show the social services charity was paying 13 key management personnel - including Tamihere - an average of $251,077 per annum.

In a mayoral election debate, Stuff reported Tamihere expressed further criticism of executive salaries at the Auckland Council: “The disparity in salaries being paid at the top end of this town and the huge inequalities within the whole of council from the CCOs... is just unacceptable.”

Tamihere declined an opportunity to elaborate on or clarify his previous campaign against high salaries.