Friday, March 14, 2014

Marking Tenth Anniversary of Waitakere Ethnic Board (WEB)

Waitakere Ethnic Board: Marks a decade’s milestone, serves as a blueprint for ethnic organisations, but loses funding source

Thakur Ranjit Singh

As the Chief Guest, Dame Susan Devoy took the stand to give her keynote address, she used some terms that bear close resemblance and coherence with Waitakere Ethnic Board (WEB) situation, and perhaps predicament. It has to, because the occasion was AGM and 10th Anniversary celebrations of WEB at New Lynn Community Centre in West Auckland where some ten years ago, the originating meeting of WEB was held.  

Chief Guest,  Dame Susan Devoy, Race Relations Commissioner. She used terms that were pertinent to WEB: Fostering relations among divers communities,  amplify the voices of diversity and smell of an oily rag.
In the then Waitakere City Council (WCC) in late 90s and early 2000, community organisation such as Waitakere Multiracial Society and Waitakere Indian Association, with others, pushed WCC to form an organisation which looked after the category of people who felt neglected and unrepresented – the ethnic communities. With a broad-based discussion groups, a working group was formed to formulate a constitution and establish Waitakere Ethnic Board. WEB was formally launched on 20th September, 2003 by the then Labour Minister for Ethnic Affairs, Hon Chris Carter. The then Mayor of WCC, Bob Harvey and WCC were key supporters of WEB, with establishment of the Board, returning officers for inauguration AGM, secretariat and venue of meeting. It was the vision of West (Waitakere) that bore fruit some 10 years on when it congregated together for its 10th AGM at the same site where it took birth a decade ago. Dame Susan Devoy, Race Relations Commissioner, graced the occasion with her presence, among others.

Part of the multi-ethnic audience during the AGM and 10th Anniversary celebrations of WEB
Ten years on, as Dame Susan Devoy delivered her keynote address, she spoke about fostering harmonious relations among diverse communities, amplifying voices of diversity and the smell of an oily rag. As her organisation, Race Relations Commission is vested with the responsibility of fostering harmonious relations among diverse communities in New Zealand, so has WEB been in forefront of doing that in its 10 years of existence. As Race Relations office does, WEB has also been a vehicle to amplify the voices of diversity. It has gone a step further by being a training ground for many ethnic people who have excelled in fostering such relations and representing ethnic communities in various forums. Dame Devoy also mentioned how organisations, in tough economic times have been operating on” smell of an oily rag’ in the climate of constrained resources. After withdrawal of funding from Auckland Council, WEB has been operating that way for sometime now.

One noticeable item that the Commissioner observed related to the Annual General Meeting which she found somewhat unusual “I have been to other AGMs where maybe five people turn up, but here we have a roomful. And we do not go to AGM where we have dancing,” she joked about the dance all had and the moves she did with WEB President, Tuwe on the vibrant tunes of Southern Steel Band, which was on hand to add colour, variety, liveliness and an appropriate celebrating atmosphere for the milestone of perhaps a very effective Ethnic Board in Auckland area.

Dancing to the tunes of  Southern Steel Band: WEB President, TUWE with Whau Local Board Chair, CATHERINE FARMER
As the meeting was in Whau Local Board area, the Chairperson of Whau Local Board, Catherine Farmer was on hand with her most diverse board in the whole of New Zealand, representing Asians, Indians, Pacific Islanders and of course Kiwis. Board members Susan Zhu, Ami Chand, Ruby Manukia-Schaumkel and Simon Matafai were also present to grace the occasion.

Board members of the host  suburb, Whau Local Board, which happens to be one of the most racially diverse Local Boards in New Zealand.: from left- SIMON MATAFAI, AMI CHAND, SUSAN ZHU (Deputy Chair) RUBY MANUKIA-SCHAUMKEL and CATHERINE FARMER. (Chair)
Local Councillor, Linda Cooper, Ethnic Affairs spokesperson in Labour Party, Phil Goff and National List MP, Kanwaljeet Bakshi respectively addressed the celebrations and wished the organisation well and commended its efforts in being the voice and sight of ethnic representation in a fast browning Auckland City. Local Board members from Western Cluster, Waitakere and Massey-Henderson Local Boards also graced the occasion.

The occasion was graced by presence of two MPs, KANWALJEET BAKSHI from National Party (third from left), and PHIL GOFF, ethnic shadow spokesperson from Labour Party (fifth from right), with. Councillor LINDA COOPER (second from left). Seen with other WEB Board members are (from left) RAJEEV VASUDEVA, THAKUR RANJIT SINGH and TUWE with WEB Coordinator Baljit Singh and other guests.
In his annual report, the incumbent president Tuwe reported that apart from their monthly meetings, WEB hosted successful community forums on Immigration, Refugees & Asylum Seekers, Exploitation of Migrant Workers and Pre-elections for Mayor and Local Boards elections. On advocacy work, he reported that “WEB’s main focus is to advocate for our communities, in particular the Ethnic communities, who in the majority of cases face challenges of exclusion and marginalization.” he said.

President of WEB, KUDAKWASHE TUWE, delivering Presidential report during AGM of WEB: He also implied the idiom of 'smell of oily rag' for WEB who had its funding agreement with Waitakere City Council  cancelled by the Super City because, presumably, other areas did not have an effective functioning ethnic board like WEB.
The smell of oily rag sent some stench to the Presidential report as well.”Since the birth of the greater Auckland Council, thus, amalgamation, we have continued to experience critical funding-problems as Waitakere City ceases to exist. We now have to queue like any other community organization, which is not easy given the current prevailing harsh economic environment, “Tuwe said. This has also been observed by others as well.

Past Presidents recognized , remembered, acknowledged and awarded with Certificates of Appreciation: From Left: KUDAKWASHE TUWE (Current President), AMAIL HABIB, LUSI SCHWENKE, ANN-DEGIA PALA, ABDUL RAFIK and PRAVEEN CHANDRA, with Auckland Councillor LINDA COOPER. (Extreme Right)
Special recognition certificates were awarded to the past Presidents of WEB who left a strong and vibrant legacy for new executives to build the organisation on. Praveen Chandra was the first president, followed by Abdul Rafik, Ann-Degia Pala, Lusi Schwenke and Amail Habib.

The first and second past presidents respectively: PRAVEEN CHANDRA (Right) and ABDUL RAFIK: Both are proud to have laid the foundation for a vibrant and effective ethnic organisation. Both made calls to Auckland Council to restore and re-establish funding relation with WEB
The inaugurating president, Praveen Chandra wished the incumbent President Tuwe Kudakwashe very best for the next year, but left some words of advice. He felt that WEB needed to have a place, should be a recognised group - a group that was increasingly important in the progress of this nation with a changing demographic landscape of Auckland City.

He was concerned about withdrawal of funding by the Supercity. “We need to ask ourselves as to why funding has been stopped and active and vigorous campaigning needs to be undertaken to bring it to life”, he said. He suggested that a short-to long term plan should be drawn up, covering five years.

The second President, Abdul Rafik informed that “during my term as President, WEB signed a formal Community Partnership Agreement with the Waitakere City Council on 17 December 2005. This was a historic moment for the Board which has been only in existence for a year.” Like former president Praveen, Rafik also felt a need for WEB to re-establish that funding relation with the Super City. “My vision would be for WEB to achieve a similar Community Partnership Agreement with the Auckland City Council to continue working together to achieve social cohesion and strong integrated communities in our Waitakere City,” he said.

Past President, ANNE-DEGIA PALA: WEB was instrumental in push for formation of  Ethnic Peoples Advisory panel (EPAP) in amalgamated Auckland City.
The third president, Ann-Degia Pala brought the first touch of a lady President to WEB, where Waitakere City Council Diwali was held in partnership at Trusts Stadium in 2005 and a very vibrant and successful Race Relations Day was held in Te Pai Park in 2006 to bring cultures together.

She spoke about struggles and efforts that went into formulation of Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP) at Auckland Council. ” WEB marched along Queen Street and later submitted to the Royal Commission on the formation of the Auckland Council’s Ethnic Panel in the one Auckland Council.   At least five board members have been foundation members of EPAP,” she said. The success of WEB is amplified by this fact alone that one organization gave five members who played instrumental role in the founding EPAP. To add to the feather in WEB’s cap, not only that but the Chairperson, Camille Nakhid and Deputy Chair, Amail Habib are the products of WEB.   No other organization single-handedly had so much input in the representation of ethnic communities in Auckland Council.

Past President, LUSI SHCWENKE: She has called for a well-resourced separate Ministry of Ethnic Affairs.
Lusi Schwenke, who was president in 2007, said that WEB needed to engage in a campaign for reviving a well - resourced Ministry of Ethnic Affairs in Parliament and Ethnic warriors as MPs.

Immediate Past President, AMAIL HABIB: Expressed concern at Auckland Council's rejection of funding support for WEB
The last President, Amail Habib, who also happened to be Deputy Chair of EPAP, also served WEB in 2013/14 as Immediate Past President. This position was introduced to allow continuity, consistency and help realise ideas and visions on the drawing board. Tuwe was really thankful for guidance provided by Amail during his first term as President.

According to Amail, WEB had to undergo a huge transition when Auckland Council decided to stop providing grants. “We vigorously fought the case with the Council and raised the matter at the Governing Body level. Presentations were made to three Local Boards with the support of Tony Rae and Monica Sharma but we did not succeed to secure the funding”, he said. However WEB had been operating on its savings on the smell of an oily rag, as Dame Susan Devoy had alluded to.

The support of Auckland Council staff for WEB.: Monica Sharma  (above)  and Tony Rae (below left) with President Tuwe, have been guide, mentors and big support for WEB ..
The program rounded off with a beautiful lunch, but before that WEB paid a special tribute and appreciation to former Waitakere City Council and the current Auckland Council for lending Monica Sharma and Tony Rae as mentors and guides in proper functioning of WEB. While moving vote of thanks, yours truly (Thakur) echoed sentiments expressed by other former presidents in loss of funding from Auckland Council. The audience was reminded that  WEB appear to have been a victim  tall poppy syndrome, where Auckland Council was seen to have cut funding for WEB because other areas (North Shore, CBD and Manukau) could not match the achievements of WEB which was able to develop and foster a working Community Partnership Agreement with Waitakere City Council. It appears other similar organizations in other former Council boundaries failed to meet this achievement, hence WEB was resented and cut down because it was seen to be elevated above the achievement of other such Boards. Hence WEB appears to have been punished for its success.
However, Chairpersons and members of local boards present promised to look into the plight of WEB.  Councillor Linda Cooper promised to take our predicament to the Council.

Part of the audience
As we parted after the first decade celebrations, it was done with the hope that the success of WEB would be honored and emulated by other like-minded organizations. It was hoped that the Super City would embrace WEB like former WCC and at least reward it for its success and restore the Community Partnership Agreement WEB held with the former visionary Waitakere City Council.

THE 2014 BOARD OF WEB: SITTING from Left: MAZHAR MEMON (Asst . Treasurer), SHIRLEY FREEMAN (Asst Secretary), ZAHRA ATAI (Secretary), KUDAKWASHE TUWE (President), RAJEEV VASUDEVA (Treasurer), BOAZ HABIB (Vice President) and BALJIT SINGH (WEB Coordinator)
STANDING from Left: PETER CHAN (Member, Henderson-Massey Local Board), ROSEMINE MULTAMULIZA (Events Officer), KYU DENG KIM ( Danny), THAKUR RANJIT SINGH (Media and Community Liaison Officer), JUN LI (Membership Officer) and AMI CHAND (Member, Whau Local Board)

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is the Media and Community Liaison Officer of WEB. He is a media commentator, and operates two blog sites, FIJI PUNDIT and KIWI PUNDIT, and considers himself a voice of ethnic people in a New Zealand media environment, which is still too white despite browning of New Zealand, especially, Auckland]

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