Part 5: Communication and Co-ordination Between Agencies in the Māori Land Sector

Māori Land Administration: Client Service Performance of the Māori Land Court Unit and the Māori Trustee.


The strength of the relationships between the various agencies with an interest in Māori Land issues can affect the quality of the service provided to Māori Land owners. We have focused on the interaction between the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee. However, throughout the course of our audit, we found that other agencies such as TPK and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) also play an important role in the administration of Māori Land.

In this part we consider the:

Exchange of Information Between the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee

Generally, a high level of interaction occurs between the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee in regard to client service. In many cases, the strength of this interaction is a result of informal networks between staff who previously worked with each other when both agencies were part of the former Department of Māori Affairs.

However, we found that the exchange of information (particularly of client addresses) between the two agencies is sporadic and informal, and usually depends on the informal staff networks. There is a risk that, as staff leave each organisation, these networks will disappear. We consider these staff networks to be invaluable client service links.

Although the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee are now serviced by separate government departments, they are part of a wider Māori Land sector. In our view, they need to co-operate more in the future to improve information exchange, particularly to resolve the incomplete transfer of Court orders, and to share Māori Land owner addresses. As the Trustee’s clients are a subset of the Māori Land Court Unit’s clients, we consider that there could be significant client service benefits if the information systems of both organisations were able to easily interface with each other.

As the Trustee administers only about 7% of all Māori Land, any information provision initiatives by the Māori Land Court Unit need to take into account any administrators of the remaining 93% of Māori Land.

Incomplete Transfer of Court Orders

We noted in paragraph 4.35 on page 66 that the Trustee was having difficulty processing Court orders received from the Māori Land Court. At present, Court orders are sent to the Trustee sporadically and in hard copy only, and there is no procedure in place to ensure that the Trustee receives every Court order relating to the blocks of land that the Trustee administers.

Processing Court orders is time-consuming because of the requirement to calculate the division of shares in a block of land for those owners listed in the order. Orders often involve numerous people receiving interests in a number of blocks of land – requiring the Trustee’s staff to update a large number of records. This task would be much simpler if the information could be transferred electronically, allowing the Trustee to establish automatic updating of electronic records.

Difficulties also arise when records relating to the same person or block of land are listed under different names within the two organisations’ systems. There needs to be some standardisation between the two systems to reduce possible confusion and mistakes.

We recommend that the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee –
22. Jointly investigate the introduction of electronic transfer of Court orders.
23. Jointly investigate the development of a system to allow for the transfer of more generic information, ensuring that such transfers would take account of the inconsistencies between the records held by each organisation.

Locating Māori Land Owners

The Trustee has about 111,000 client accounts, of which only 37% have valid addresses or account details. This results in a significant amount of money from leased lands being accumulated every year by the Trustee because the beneficiaries cannot be found. As at 31 March 2003, this amount stood at $8,688,388, a figure that has increased at an average of $701,650 (or about 12%) annually over the last four years.

A part-time project officer has been assigned to reduce the amount of unclaimed money by tracing those with the largest amounts outstanding.35 This has enabled the Trustee to pay out around $300,000 of previously unclaimed money each year. However, the issue will only be substantially resolved if:

  • significant further resources are assigned to finding contact details of those with unclaimed money; and/or
  • interaction with other agencies is increased to obtain address information.

One of the main challenges for agencies within the Māori Land system is keeping track of Māori Land owners who are scattered around New Zealand and overseas. If owners cannot be found, the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee are not able to fully perform their functions. For example, the Māori Land Court regularly calls on the Trustee to distribute any funds it holds to owners of a block of land, even though the Trustee has only 37% of the valid addresses/bank account details that are needed.

There is no co-ordinated approach to obtaining Māori Land owner addresses. The Māori Land Court Unit does not view collecting and updating addresses as its responsibility, and the MTO collects addresses only for its own records. Private trusts, including Māori Incorporations, also compile their own databases, separate from those of the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee.

Collection of Information from the Births, Deaths and Marriages Office

In 2003, the Māori Land Court Unit tested an initiative where information was supplied from the Births, Deaths and Marriages Office of the Department of Internal Affairs to assist with maintenance of the Unit’s records. Through this initiative, the Unit receives information monthly on Māori who have died. This information is then matched with data held in the Unit’s computer system so that staff can identify those clients who are deceased. From this information, the staff can then contact the person’s descendants to inform them of the process to succeed to interests in Māori Land. This is a positive step by the Unit to improve its records and it also holds potential benefits for the Trustee and other parties in the Māori Land sector.

Other Ways to Collect Information

There are two further areas that could be explored for the collection of address information:

  • the Treaty settlement process; and
  • electoral rolls.

Part of the Treaty settlement process involves claimants setting up a register for all those who belong to a given iwi, because only those who belong to the iwi are allowed to vote on the ratification and benefit from the settlement. For example, Ngāi Tahu currently has a tribal register recording about 31,000 members. Such registers would provide valuable information to the Māori Land Court Unit, if access was granted. The same goes for information provided through the census process, though issues of privacy could limit access to this information.

Information provided through the electoral rolls is freely available in hard copy, though it would be a tedious exercise to go through it manually to find any useful information. Some of the Trustee’s regional offices have already undertaken this lengthy task, with limited success, and their work was complicated by the fact that many owners have multiple names. If the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee were able to negotiate electronic access to the rolls, their task would be made much easier.

We recommend that –
24. The Trustee consider further ways to find contact details for unlocated beneficiaries.
25. The Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee negotiate joint electronic access to the Electoral Roll.

The Benefits of a Centralised Database

A centralised database of Māori Land owner addresses would benefit all the parties in the Māori Land system. We believe that the Māori Land Court Unit is best placed to manage a centralised database because it deals with all Māori Land owners who want to administer their land.36

However, the Trustee would also have a role because the MTO holds information that the Māori Land Court Unit does not, and the Trustee stands to benefit from any improvement in the accuracy of address information. Any centralised database should be made available to all trustee service providers in some way, to ensure that all trustees have access to the same information.

We recognise that the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee will face challenges in maintaining the database, particularly because of the difficulty in tracing Māori Land owners. Accordingly, the onus should be on individual Māori Land owners to assist the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee by advising them of any change of address. While there is no quick remedy for this situation, which is a direct result of the complexities of the Māori Land system, we see overcoming this issue as a key step in increasing the effectiveness of the client service of the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee (along with other trustees).

We recommend that the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee –
26. Co-ordinate their approach to the collection and maintenance of client addresses.
27. Jointly investigate the feasibility of establishing a centralised database of Māori Land owner addresses, which would benefit all parties in the Māori Land system.

Communication and Co-ordination Between the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee, and the Various Other Agencies in the Māori Land Sector

To examine how well the Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee communicate and co-ordinate with other agencies in the Māori Land sector, we considered a range of initiatives that involved various sector agencies – including:

  • the Capacity Building programme;
  • the Māori Land Liaison Committee;
  • the Heartland Services programme;
  • the establishment of Māori Land information databases; and
  • trustee training.

While we found instances of positive communication and co-ordination, we have identified areas for improvement. In particular, to overcome a lack of co-ordination in some areas, we discuss the establishment of an inter-agency committee to co-ordinate the activities of agencies within the Māori Land sector.

Capacity Building Programme

The Māori Land Court Unit and the Trustee are involved in the Regional Intersectoral Forum, which meets every two months to consider applications made under the Capacity Building programme. Under this scheme, all government services have given an undertaking to improve outcomes for Māori. Applications for Capacity Building funding are received by TPK, which then co-ordinates action with agencies who can assist with processing the application.

We noted regional differences in relationships between the Māori Land Court Unit, the Trustee, and other organisations with an interest in Māori Land ownership. For example, the relationship between the Māori Land Court registry and TPK in Hastings was particularly strong because of the regular contact between the organisations. This contact gave registry staff a good understanding of the Capacity Building programme, which could then be passed on to clients if they asked.

However, the situation in other registries appears less co-ordinated, with irregular contact between agencies. This has led to a lack of understanding by staff in some of the registries and MTOs of how to access Capacity Building funding for the benefit of their clients.

Māori Land Liaison Committee

Another example of inter-agency co-ordination is the Māori Land Liaison Committee, which involves representatives from the Māori Land Court Unit and LINZ. The committee meets every 2-3 months to work on projects of joint interest. One such project is the development of a computer-generated diagram that would replace full surveys of land by providing sufficient information to Judges for partition applications. This project will reduce the time and expense of partition applications for clients, and will satisfy LINZ requirements for such proceedings.

Heartland Services Programme

While the Heartland Services programme includes a wider range of government agencies than those involved in the Māori Land sector, it facilitates access for Māori Land owners to the Māori Land Court Unit’s (and occasionally the Trustee’s) services. Heartland Services is made up of a number of government agencies whose representatives travel to towns located away from the main centres at specified days of the week/month (depending on the location) to hold clinics where people can access government services, such as those offered by:

  • the Accident Compensation Corporation;
  • the Inland Revenue Department;
  • Housing New Zealand; and
  • Work and Income.

We visited a Heartland Services clinic37 to see how it worked, especially given the Māori Land Court Unit’s presence, and found that it was an ideal opportunity for the Unit’s clients to obtain information. Even though we are unsure of the extent of the programme’s reach to Māori Land owners, we think that the Heartland Services programme is a positive example of government agencies working together to try to ensure that their clients in more remote areas are adequately serviced. We would like to see this level of co-ordination more evident among the parties in the Māori Land sector, because co-ordination is lacking in some areas.

Establishment of Māori Land Information Databases

There are a number of examples of a lack of co-ordination between the agencies in the Māori Land sector. One example is the Geographical Information System (GIS) developed by TPK. This system shows a vast amount of information in relation to Māori Land, such as the location of various blocks of land, population, and the location of forests, lakes, and geothermal areas.

While the GIS was initially aimed at Māori Land owners and the Māori Land Court Unit, the Unit is unable to use it because of incompatibility issues between the GIS and the Unit’s computer system. Consultants employed to advise the Unit on the cost of overcoming the incompatibility issues have advised that the system is not user-friendly, and that there would be a high cost involved to make the systems compatible. Accordingly, the consultants recommended that the Unit should purchase a new product so that it can specify the features it wants.

There is an abundance of databases containing information on blocks of Māori Land that have been created by a number of government agencies, which have looked for internal organisational benefits ahead of wider cross-agency benefits. We know of at least four databases created by TPK, LINZ, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the Community Employment Group (within the Department of Labour).38 Some of this duplication of effort is the result of a lack of co-ordination between the agencies responsible for the databases.

Trustee Training

We are aware that a number of organisations offer training for trustees of Māori Land. For example, the Federation of Māori Authorities has run such training, as well as BizInfo in conjunction with the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki.

The number and range of organisations providing training for such a technical area means that it is difficult to get a measure of the standard or consistency of the training. The expertise of the presenters is also unknown, which means that trustees could receive incorrect information. We were told of one instance where the presenter of a seminar rang the Operations Manager of a Māori Land Court registry to get some basic information on the various trust structures available to Māori Land owners.

Once the Māori Land Court sets up a trust, it has no further involvement with that trust until issues are raised about the performance of the trustees. Therefore, there is scope for training to ensure that trustees are aware of their rights and obligations when a trust is formed. Co-ordination of providers of such training would ensure consistency and accuracy, but this is currently not a role of the Māori Land Court Unit.

The Māori Land Court Unit already provides training/seminars through some of the more experienced Advisory Officers who attend hui to talk about the Māori Land Court process and the different trust structures available to Māori Land owners. We understand that Māori Land Court Judges have also conducted trustee training sessions. However, there remains a concern about the potential for misinformation to be circulated by private trustee training providers about Māori Land Court processes and the options available to owners.

Establishment of an Inter-agency Committee

In our view, there is a lack of communication between parties in the Māori Land sector. While we found instances of inter-agency co-ordination on specific projects, some (like those noted above) have been developed without consultation with other organisations that have an interest in the Māori Land system. We therefore consider that an inter-agency committee is needed to co-ordinate the development of such projects, to ensure maximum value from publicly funded initiatives involving Māori Land, and to avoid any duplication of effort. Such a committee could also prioritise projects, and assign them to the agencies best able to carry them out.

The committee would provide a forum in which agencies could present proposals and receive feedback from other agencies, to ensure that all interested parties are aware of the proposal’s existence, and that there is a consistent purpose and direction. It would also serve as a forum for outside interests to table any proposals for the use of Māori Land. Two examples where this co-ordination committee could help are:

  • the development of Māori Land information databases; and
  • trustee training.
We recommend that the Ministry –
28. Establish and manage an inter-agency committee to co-ordinate projects by government agencies, as well as proposals for the use of Māori Land, to ensure maximum effectiveness and to avoid duplication of effort in the Māori Land sector.

35: The MTO also regularly produces a list of clients with unclaimed money that is available for viewing at its offices, as well as those of TPK, the Māori Land Court, various Runanga, Trust Boards, and local authorities.

36: The Māori Land Court Unit should collect as much contact information as possible from its clients when they attend the Court. Another collection point could be when the Advisory Officers meet clients in their community.

37: The Heartland Services programme also includes “Outreach”, which involves a number of agencies holding joint clinics in places (such as Featherston) that are closer to the main centres than the programme’s service centres.

38: However, these databases were never designed to solve the address problems mentioned in paragraph 5.10 on page 75.

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