Whakatōhea Pre-Settlement Claims Trust negotiator Maui Hudson says he is deeply frustrated by an admission from the Waitangi Tribunal Chief Judge that the organisation is ‘stretched to the limit’.

Earlier this year the Tribunal recommended Whakatōhea undergo a further voting process with its members to decide whether to proceed with the direct negotiations pathway or stop and pursue a full Waitangi Tribunal inquiry.

Mr Hudson says it is unacceptable for the Waitangi Tribunal to raise claimants’ expectations in the absence of robust information around timelines.

“The Tribunal must have known earlier this year, when they recommended that Whakatōhea goes to another vote, that their capability to press ahead with a full inquiry was severely limited,” he says.

“Our voting process ends today, and the Tribunal should have made this admission at the beginning of our process given it is a material consideration for our people.”

“The impact of the Tribunal’s decision means that it is highly possible that those who vote for a full district inquiry settlement did so on the assumption it would extend our settlement process by a few years rather than decades.”

“If Whakatōhea has to wait another 10-20 years for settlement, we conservatively estimate potential economic losses of at least $80m. When you combine it with the 20-year hiatus since our first offer in 1996, the loss exceeds $200m.”

“It is unacceptable for the Waitangi Tribunal to exacerbate our grievances in this manner and deny our people a chance to build their future.”

The Waitangi Tribunal receives $8m a year to fund its activities, while last year Treaty lawyers extracted $14m from Legal Aid to assist their clients.

Through the Whakatōhea Mandate Inquiry process, lawyers have received more than $1.5m in legal aid. Mr Hudson says this is more than the funding envelope available to the Whakatōhea Pre-Settlement Claims Trust to complete the entire negotiations process.