Considerable taxpayer funds are wrapped up in ski field projects such as the Sky Waka. Source: Mt Ruapehu

Ruapehu Alpine Lift’s administrators-turned-liquidators strongly dispute a version of events laid out in a Government apology concerning the treatment of iwi in the ski field sale process.

The Government apologised to Ngāti Tūwharetoa in a letter released under the Official Information Act earlier this month.

In the letter the ministers acknowledged that iwi engagement throughout the Ruapehu Alpine Lift’s administration and subsequent liquidation had been flawed and hadn’t met “the standard of rigour you should expect from the Crown” in not allowing for appropriate time and quality information.

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The letter was signed by former Regional Development Minister Kiritapu Allan, Treaty Negotiation Minister Andrew Little and Conservation Minister Willow-Jean Prime.

In a summary of a hui held between Government and the iwi on June 20, the Government letter said Tūwharetoa had said it approached the voluntary administrator – John Fisk and Richard Nacey of PWC – in late 2022, with a specific proposal to purchase the ski field operations.

It went on to say despite indicating a willingness to proceed with its proposal, the iwi group received no further communications from the administrators.

‘The statements in that letter are not correct.’ – John Fisk, PWC

The letter said in the meeting the iwi group had stressed its original 2022 proposal was, from its perspective, still live and that this was new information to the Government, which was seeking urgent advice from officials on the proposal.

No proposal

Speaking to Newsroom, the company’s voluntary administrator-turned-liquidator John Fisk rejected this version of events.

“There certainly wasn’t any proposal put to us [by iwi],” Fisk said.

“We had a meeting with the paramount chief and his son, and we talked about what the situation was with the voluntary administration and the processes that we were going to go through.

“They took some interest in being part of the process and then following that meeting I followed up on a number of occasions with the son to say, ‘hey where are you at, what’s your thinking?’ and I got a response that they weren’t ready to talk.”

Fisk said further discussions had similar results.

“It was all really left in their court and after Christmas, it became a process where [the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment] was taking the lead on dealing with iwi through the rest of the process.

“I think the statements in that letter are not correct.”

When the iwi bid became public in June, the then Regional Development Minister was said to have been furious that the ministry (not PWC) had ignored a commercially viable bid from the iwi.

Ngāti Tūwharetoa isn’t responding to media requests surrounding its bid for the Whakapapa and Turoa fields.

Regional Development Minister Kieran McAnulty also declined to comment.

Lack of consultation

Though the facts of this aspect of the process are disputed, there is no doubt the process has been severely lacking in Māori involvement and consultation considering the economic, cultural and spiritual importance of Mt Ruapehu to local iwi and hapū groups.

Of particular issue was securing Department of Conservation concessions to operate the ski fields in the Tongariro National Park, with any agreement requiring consultation with iwi, who were calling for a pause on the process to allow this to happen in a proper manner.

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According to the Tongariro National Park Plan, which has to be followed by Conservation Minister Willow-Jean Prime in making any decision, tāngata whenua must be consulted.

“The implementation of He Kaupapa Rangatira, a framework and protocol for giving practical expression to the partnership with iwi, will ensure that iwi and hapū have an evolving and ongoing role in the management of the park,” the plan reads.

“Be it in decision-making processes for use of cultural materials, the reintroduction of previously present bird species, the consideration of concessions which may impact on cultural values or the development of further park guidelines or strategies, iwi will be involved.”

The Conservation Act also requires DoC to give effect to the principles of te Tiriti which should not be narrowly construed.

Local iwi and hapū have expressed concern about the lack of consultation throughout the administration process, only having their first meeting with the Regional Development Minister less than two weeks before the failed vote to approve sales options in June.

Andrew Bevin is an Auckland-based business reporter who covers major industries, markets, regulation, aged care and fisheries.

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