The Māori Land Court has ordered the removal of a trustee and chair of the Trust after he failed in his duties. He had been a founding trustee of the Māori Land Trust since its inception 40 years earlier.

The other trustees brought an application to remove the chair after he repeatedly acted on behalf of the Trust without consulting any of the other trustees. This included talking to the media, engaging a lawyer, and posting an article on social media on the Trust’s behalf.

There were also claims made about the administration of the Trust. The chair hadn’t called an Annual General Meeting in four years, didn’t keep track of the financials of the Trust, and was intimidating and dismissive in his dealings with other trustees.

The chair argued that the lawyer he hired was well respected, and that he did not think he needed to consult with the other trustees to make the hiring decision. He also stated that he never identified himself with the Trust when talking to the media, and that his social media article was appropriate as it facilitated discussion around dealings with an urupā on trust land.

The Court firstly asked what the conduct or circumstances that led to the application for the removal of the trustee were, and then whether this removal is desirable.

The Court decided that the trustee’s conduct made it clear that he was no longer suitable to hold his role. His failure to communicate with other trustees, and unwillingness to act cooperatively, led the Judge to decide that there were grounds for his removal as trustee.

The Court then decided that removal of him as a trustee was prudent for the proper execution of the Trust, stating that the issues of administration surrounding the Trust had become secondary to the issue of control of the Trust. The Trust needed to have a more transparent foundation, and the Court decided that he was not the appropriate person to facilitate this.

When acting as a trustee and chair it is critical to include all other trustees in the decision-making process and to always act in the best interests of the Trust. The failure to do so can lead to a trustee’s removal, as seen in this case.

If there is confusion around trustee duties, it pays to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.

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