More than $13m in cyclone funds will not be touched until 2024

Damage, rubble and carnage left over in Eskdale after Cyclone Gabrielle.

Mud caked high on property in Eskdale, after Cyclone Gabrielle.
Photo: RNZ / Jordan Dunn

More than $13 million destined for the country’s cyclone recovery effort is sitting in a bank account collecting dust.

The government’s Cyclone Gabrielle Appeal Fund received more than $1.7 million in public donations, bolstered by $11.7m from the special Lotto draw in March – plus some interest.

The Department of Internal Affairs has told RNZ the money in the Cyclone Gabrielle Appeal Fund (CGAF) will not be open for applications until early next year.

But those who know their communities best – like Ngāti Kahungunu chair Bayden Barber – say those who were affected needed that money now.

Ngāti Kahungunu chair Bayden Barber speaking at the re-opening of the Napier to Hastings rail line after it was closed earlier in 2023 due to Cyclone Gabrielle.

Bayden Barber
Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

“Anything to do with the relief fund for Cyclone Gabrielle needs to be put out there ASAP,” Barber said.

“I mean, it just doesn’t make much sense to hold off having that fund open until next year, you know, that’s months away.”

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst agreed, saying other funding streams were drying up.

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst on State Highway 5

Sandra Hazlehurst
Photo: RNZ/ Tom Kitchin

“I’m being contacted almost daily, being asked by community organisations to help with our cyclone-impacted communities, to find ways in which we can support them,” Hazlehurst said.

“I just know how far this money would go if we could get the money into the communities right now.”

There was a catch, though – the bulk of the money that came from Lotto had to be distributed in accordance with the Gambling Act, meaning it could only go towards “community purposes”.

It was not for individuals or businesses to help their clean up, or to be used for infrastructure work.

The clean-up continues in Wairoa on 21 February following Cyclone Gabrielle.

Wairoa streets being cleaned up after Cyclone Gabrielle, in February
Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The fund was administered by three trustees; Department of Internal Affairs chief executive Paul James, former Napier mayor Barbara Arnott, and Te Rūnanganui o Ngāti Porou chair Selwyn Parata.

Arnott said the modest amount of money would be “icing on the cake” for communities once they had the chance to consider what they needed most.

“We’re there for the community to have a look around and say, look, we need a footbridge to connect us from one side of that stream to another, or we need a new playground, or we need a new oven for the hall.

“But until things have settled down rather and people know where they are themselves, then that money will be spent after that.”

But Arnott admitted she was not confident holding on to the money was the right call – because some communities were ready, and needed help now.

She said that would be discussed when the trust met again in October.

“And if we see that communities do need that, there’s no impetus not to give money out, if it’s needed right away.”

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