More than $10 million raised by a special Lotto draw and appeal that was run in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle has now sat unspent with the Department of Internal Affairs for nearly a year.
Those wanting to know where the funds will go are set to get answers sometime in mid-February, but a mayor in one of hardest hit regions says the late timeline and lack of information are still hard for people to fathom.
The government Cyclone Gabrielle Appeal Fund received $11.7m from the special Lotto draw in March 2023 and was bolstered by more than $1.7m in public donations - plus interest earned over the past 11 months.
The DIA confirmed the funding had not been allocated but that it was expected there would be “action” this month, likely just after the February 14 anniversary of the cyclone hitting Hawke’s Bay and the East Coast.
“The trustees will meet in February to consider and decide on a timeline for the fund. No funds have been allocated at this time. The Trust’s focus is on medium to long-term recovery projects,” a DIA spokesperson said.
Hasting Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst wants decisions on the Lotto cash finalised this month as the anniversary of Cyclone Gabrielle in Hawke's Bay approaches. Photo / Paul Taylor
Some intricacies make allocating the funds different to other appeals.
The bulk of the money that came from Lotto has to be distributed in accordance with the Gambling Act, meaning it can only go towards “community purposes”.
This meant it could not go to individuals or businesses to help their clean up, or to be used for infrastructure work.
The fund was set up to focus on projects that help to build resilience for the future, as well as fixing the facilities where people come together, like sports clubs, marae or community halls.
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The Cyclone Gabrielle Appeal Fund Trust says there hasn’t been a delay with allocating the funding, but a conscious decision to focus on these medium to long-term recovery projects.
The fund was not in competition with larger infrastructure projects that made up much of the region’s initial recovery.
Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said it was difficult for people to comprehend that the money hadn’t moved, considering the speed of many other cyclone-related relief funds.
“We know our local teams have been working hard with our communities, however, we are finding it difficult to understand the delay in distributing this funding,” she said.
“Our Hawke’s Bay Disaster Relief Trust has been administering and allocating donations from agencies and the community since the cyclone hit, and this has been very successful.”
To date, $6.4m has been allocated from the Hawke’s Bay Disaster Relief Fund, and separately, the Hastings Mayoral Fund has distributed more than $1.6m.
Hazlehurst said council had received little information regarding the criteria for allocating the Lotto funding.
“It’s disappointing and unfair on our impacted communities, some of whom are still managing silt or working through where they can live while their houses are being rebuilt,” she said.
“Our communities need this funding now – it would be greatly appreciated if we could see some real progress in line with the one-year anniversary of the cyclone.”
The Cyclone Gabrielle Appeal 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 chairman Sir Selwyn Parata.
Arnott told RNZ in September that 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,” she said.
“But until things have settled down and people know where they are themselves, then that money will be spent after that.”
Another fund that took significant donations from Kiwis was the NZ Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which received approximately $27.5m in donations.
As at November 13 the Red Cross had committed $24m of the funding, which had earned nearly $600,000 in interest, added to the fund to support affected communities.
Red Cross NZ emergency management and international general manager Sean Stewart told Hawke’s Bay Today in November that the fund was set to be completely allocated by the anniversary of Cyclone Gabrielle.
An update on if that has been achieved is expected in the next week.
Mitchell Hageman joined Hawke’s Bay Today in early 2023. From his Napier base, he writes regularly on social issues, arts and culture, and the community.
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