ANALYSIS: A $2.75 million dollar drug rehabilitation initiative funded by the Government has caused a heated national debate.
The National and Act parties have accused the government of misspending tax dollars by backing the Hard 2 Reach Trust (HR2) which will support the drug rehabilitation of gang members in Hawke’s Bay.
Police Association President Chris Cahill told the NZ Herald, officers have likened the funding to “money laundering.” He raised concerns they take risks to police armed and dangerous gangs only for the money to be returned back to the gangs.
But the debate has muddied the facts about where the money has come from, who is actually getting the funding, how it will be administered, and who will benefit from it.
The money isn’t taxpayer money; it is drug seized money.
The money has not been given to the Mongrel Mob but to Hard to Reach (H2R), a consultancy that seeks to access marginalised groups. Previously, they have worked on suicide prevention initiatives in poor communities. Harry Tam, a life member of the Mongrel Mob and a former bureaucrat, is a director of the H2R programme. Tam has worked alongside public agencies, preparing cultural reports. He has also conducted research for Corrections, at one point he was employed by them.
The Kahukura programme was first started by Mahinaarangi Smith, wife to Sonny Smith, who runs the Mongrel Mob’s Notorious Chapter. The initiative seeks to treat methamphetamine addiction amongst gang members. Mahinaarangi Smith will still be a part of the initiative in a facilitator role.
The initiative was praised by the Ministries of Health and Social Development, Corrections, and Police.
Assistant Commissioner Sandy Venables told the NZ Herald, “Police recognise the need to work with different groups in our communities to develop lasting solutions that will reduce harm … it is clear that the programme has strong support locally.” It has been recognised by various public officials the Trust is in a unique position to connect with individuals usually excluded from getting the help they need.
Much of the public debate has dismissed the merits of the initiative, comparing what they received to a lack of funding for other programmes such as Mike King’s Gumboot Friday.
Realising the programme’s signs of success, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her ministers are continuing to back the programme despite backlash. There is no doubt, because of the public and political debate the programme will be heavily scrutinised by everyone.