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NZAF BOARD: Should the chair and/or board resign?

Mon 18 Jul 2005 In: HIV

The AIDS Foundation board has received calls for resignations in the wake of their dumped Maori board quota proposal, but doesn't believe such calls necessarily represent the majority of stakeholders. The proposal to change the Foundation's constitution – which was dropped last week after overwhelming opposition from stakeholders – would have increased the board's size from seven to eight, and mandated that at least 50% of those positions be held by Maori. The proposal was the board's interpretation of the Foundation's constitutional commitment to recognise the Maori version of the Treaty of Waitangi. The board's deputy chair Simon Robb says some of the comments made during what has become a public relations crisis for the Foundation have been heated. “At this point in time, as a board, we haven't made a decision around resignation or whether full resignation should occur,” he told GayNZ.com. “What we need to do is make sure that we listen to people, that there is a clear sense that there's a majority view out there that something should happen, and that we take that on board.” Acknowledging that there have been calls for board resignations in submissions received so far, Robb says it's difficult to determine how representative these are of general stakeholder opinion. “I'm pretty clear that there isn't necessarily a majority view that the board needs to resign, but there is definitely a strong view that what we were doing was wrong. We had got it wrong, rightly or wrongly, and we need to go away and think about that and our options forward.” Robb says the board needs to think about the best interests of the Foundation when considering calls for resignations. “It's important, I believe, that the institutional knowledge and the goodwill that is on the board is kept there as much as possible, so our executive director and senior management team are supported to implement the strategic plan, that was only finalised last year.” The board will meet with new chair Dr Clive Aspin next Saturday for the first time since the dumping of the quota proposals. Aspin has been out of the country since his appointment as chair, attending international conferences in his capacity as a University of Auckland researcher. Recent revelations regarding the contents of a paper he presented at one of these conferences is thought to have been the final catalyst that caused the embattled board to withdraw its quota proposals. Aspin's paper made reference to “New Zealand's community-based AIDS organization” and suggested recent opposition to the quota proposals in New Zealand had been motivated by “disturbing” levels of racism, backed up by portions of a post taken from GayNZ.com's message board as an example of the alleged racism. There were also suggestions in the paper that, because of this, the needs of takatapui may not be best met within “mainstream organisations”. Aspin deleted portions from the message board post he quoted that didn't back up his allegations of racism. Among the deleted portions were segments that revealed the author of the post was a Maori man who took issue with the board and Aspin in particular over his interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi. The full post also criticised the quota proposals as being part of a political agenda, and took a swipe at Aspin's rumoured election candidacy for the Maori Party, rumours which Aspin has said are untrue. The board last Friday moved to distance itself from Aspin's internationally tabled comments, which he will be asked to explain at next Saturday's board meeting. "We'll have a free and frank discussion, all in good faith," Robb says. "I suspect the questions will seek Clive's clarification around those comments which have caused concern out there, i.e. we've read your paper, we respect your academic freedom, could you explain what you meant by those comments?" Now in healing mode, the board will work towards rebuilding bridges with its stakeholders with "a very comprehensive plan of consultation and engagement over a reasonably long period of time," Robb says. "We'll work very deliberately to take advantage of the energy and interest that people have in the Foundation, that this situation has created, to engage with our stakeholders. We need to think very carefully how we do that so we take people with us. I felt we probably left people behind [with the proposals] and it certainly wasn't our intention to do that." Chris Banks - 18th July 2005    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Monday, 18th July 2005 - 12:00pm

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