Setting up a trust or governance structure
Deciding who should govern
Find out what you need to think about when nominating trustees for an ahu whenua trust or other type of governance structure.
When you apply to set up a whenua Māori trust or incorporation, owners can nominate the people they think will make good trustees or committee of management members.
The Māori Land Court will make the final decision about who should be appointed. The judges will want to be satisfied that a nominee:
- has the ability, experience and knowledge for the role
- is “broadly acceptable” to the landowners.
Who can be a trustee
Agreeing to be a trustee is a big decision. It can be a lot of work, but most trustees say it's worth it. They drive the mahi for whānau to achieve their aspirations and motivate the collective to thrive and grow.
Potential trustees can nominate themselves, or be nominated by whānau. They don't have to be owners of the trust's whenua, but they do have to consent to an appointment. There needs to be general agreement to their appointment from an owners' hui where a quorum was met.
Potential trustees must also:
- agree in writing to being appointed
- understand and agree with the trust order.
Who can't be a trustee
MLC generally won't appoint someone who is:
- insolvent (a bankrupt or a director on a company that is subject to liquidation)
- subject to a No Asset Procedure administration by the official assignee
- convicted of a crime involving dishonesty or fraud
- a minor
- someone who has been removed from a trust or incorporation by Māori Land Court or any other court for misconduct in the administration of a trust or incorporation
- unable to manage your own affairs due to mental or physical disability or age.
Potential trustees need to provide a consent form that states that none of these situations apply to you.
Things to consider
Ideally, particularly for ahu whenua or whenua tōpu trusts, you need trustees who will bring a range of views to the table.
This will result in more ideas, better debate and better outcomes for the trust. It will also ensure the diverse opinions of owners are represented.
You should also consider if the people you're considering as trustees:
- know the land
- know the people
- have the time, energy and motivation to fully commit to trust mahi
- have the skills and knowledge to help grow the trust
- have the support of whānau and owners
- have integrity.
And will they:
- advance the vision and goals of the trust?
- show the values and traditions of the land?
- be able to work with people who have differing opinion?
- be willing to be held accountable?
What trustees do
Being a trustee can be a big time commitment. You'll need to:
- attend regular trustee meetings to discuss and debate plans for the trust
- travel to the whenua regularly (if you live further away)
- build relationships with other stakeholders like your lessee, accountant or management team
- organise hui for owners or trustees
- respond to owner enquiries
- research options for the whenua on behalf of your owners.
There can also be legal consequences if you don't carry out your duties properly. As a trustee, you're held accountable for any bad decisions — for example, if the trust ends up in debt, as a trustee you might be ordered to pay back the debt personally.