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Whānau Ora Minister demands explanation after commissioning agency pays $600k to its shareholder

The Government minister for Whānau Ora wants an explanation after one of its commissioning agencies paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to its private shareholder.

Michelle Hippolite is the chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Maori Development.

Responsible for Whānau Ora, today she was grilled by MPs over its finances.

"It's the finances that I'm quite concerned about, in one area where a commissioning agency gave out $600,000 to shareholders," Jo Hayes, National's Whānau Ora spokesperson said.

One of three commissioning agencies, Te Pou Matakana receives around $40 million in Whānau Ora funding each year.

It distributes money to frontline providers. But it has been revealed a surplus of $600,000 was pocketed by the commissioning agency and paid out to its private shareholder.

"If they have met all their contractual requirements, they can do what they choose to do with any surplus that they have made," Nancy Tuaine of Te Puni Kōkiri said.

Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare, though, doesn't agree.

"To have such a large amount of money not being spent on whānau aspirations and meeting them, that's a concern to me," he said.

Asked is that appropriate, Ms Hippolite said: "That's something we've undertaken to give more feedback to the select committee."

Ms Hayes said she feels "for those providers, for those whānau, that this money could have actually helped in various programmes".

1 NEWS contacted the other two Whānau Ora commissioning agencies and both said they pay no dividend whatsoever.   

Te Pou Matakana chief executive John Tamihere defended the $600,000 dividend to it shareholder, the National Urban Māori Authority, but he declined to be interviewed.

Mr Henare said he "would prefer to see that money being reinvested, and I'm meeting with them on Friday so I look forward to having a discussion with them".

The revelation comes after the Government's independent review of Whānau Ora which 1 NEWS has revealed raises questions of transparency. 

"I'm confident that our staff are asking the right questions and they're working with the commissioning agencies. The way in which commissioning agencies provide a response could leave room for greyness" Ms Hippolite said. 

The report into the review will be released later this month.

A $600,000 surplus was pocketed by Te Pou Matakana, and paid out to a private shareholder. Source: 1 NEWS