March 24, 2020, 8:23 p.m.
Iwi members from Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu and the wider community of Kaitaia were shocked to find that on reporting to the Ministry for Social Development (MSD) for scheduled appointments, the offices had shut up shop without notice. The MSD office displayed a sign saying it had closed to keep people safe and to stop the spread of COVID-19, and no other information was available.
Eru Lyndon, Regional Commissioner at the Ministry of Social Development for Northland, said “I acknowledge the distress caused to whānau impacted by the closure of MSD’s face-to-face service in Kaitaia due to COVID-19. I can assure people that although the office is closed, we are still operating. People can access our services by phone or via MYMSD. Although it’s taking more time to get through, we will get back to people.”
Andre Lambert (Ngāti Kahu) said “At the moment I’m getting nothing, and I've tried to ring through to the call centre, and you can't get through, I’ve been ringing since yesterday, Monday, I tried all day yesterday and today and couldn’t get through, and when you go on MYMSD it just keeps on loading and loading. I’m not sure what to do. I’m either going to go fishing, hunting or dare I say it, go robbing because I have no other means of getting food for the family I’m with.”
A kuia and her mokopuna travelled 45 minutes from an isolated Māori community to attend their scheduled appointment. Ngaire Skinner (Te Rarawa) said, “I drove three-quarters of an hour to get here, to my appointment. They could’ve let us know, there was nothing. I checked MY MSD this morning, there were no messages, nothing on my email. Had I known I probably wouldn't have come in.”
Aotearoa is about to shut down in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. This means all people, except for those working in essential services, need to stay at home. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand will be at COVID-19 Alert Level 4 on Wednesday at 11.59 pm, lasting at least four weeks.
Carol Berghan, CEO of Te Hiku Iwi Development Trust, said “Everything is happening so rapidly that in critical situations like this it’s vital for whānau in our Te Hiku communities to have confidence in our public services. Flipside. All these workers are whānau themselves who have just as much to do for their families as we are doing. If the call centre is not responding then it needs to be fixed immediately.”
When asked about the Kaitaia MSD office being closed without notice, and those in need having appointments cancelled without notification, Kaitaia resident Nikora Gage said, “I actually think it’s appalling because there is a lot of people in our community that need a lot of help, financial, and it’s pretty hard for us to get to where we’re going.”
Andre Lambert went on to say, “What about us people that are below the poverty line, what are they going to do there, Work and Income is not even open. So come on Work and Income, help us all out! At least have someone by the door so we can hand in our forms before it hits Level 4, then what do we do then?”
Carol Berghan, CEO of Te Hiku iwi Development Trust said “local iwi and Māori social services are working through developing care packages for kaumātua and those most at risk. We are all whānau and care deeply about all members of the community, especially our iwi members, tamariki and mokopuna.”
Eru Lyndon went on to say, “In addition, MSD is working with Te Kahu o Taonui and Māori Service Providers across Te Taitokerau to distribute food parcels and other basic necessities to ensure that kuia and kaumātua, and vulnerable whānau are supported”.