Rocket Lab apologises after saying it gave iwi trust money for food during Covid-19 lockdown

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Rocket Lab has been called out for “corporate grandstanding” after releasing a statement claiming it gave an iwi trust “funds for food” during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The launch site for the Electron rocket at Rocket Lab in Mahia, New Zealand in June 16, 2018.

(File image). Photo: Kieran Fanning / Rocket Lab / AFP

Rongomaiwahine Iwi Trust former chief executive Mo Rongo said he declined the offer of $1000 for food and essential supplies during lockdown, but Rocket Lab said it was advised the money had been spent.

Whether it had been spent was “irrelevant”, Rongo said. He took issue with the company “using” the iwi as leverage.

“When you help people, you help people. That’s what being part of a community is.

“You don’t go to a tangi and then tell everyone how much you koha. That’s not what you do,” Rongo said.

Rocket Lab head of communications Morgan Bailey called Rongo to apologise for the confusion on Friday.

Bailey said the trust’s chair, Paul Ratapu, approached Rocket Lab during the Covid-19 lockdown last year and asked if it could provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for community packs.

Rocket Lab supplied as much as they could but because stocks were not high, the company suggested putting a tab on at the Māhia Beach Store so that additional stock could be bought, she said.

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“These funds could be used for PPE, food or any other supplies needed for the community packs during a worrying time for everyone,” Bailey said.

Rocket Lab was advised the money had been used but last week was told that was not the case, she said.

“We would like to apologise for the mix-up. We’ve been advised by the chairman that the funds will now be put to use for future community support.”

The information was shared almost a year on from the lockdown, following a request for comment on the ways Rocket Lab had contributed to the local community.

“We’re eager to make sure people know the work that we do when we do it,” she said.

The statement said providing “funds for food and essential parcels” was one of a number of ways the company had supported the Māhia community.

It was published in the Wairoa Star on 23 March in an article discussing how Rocket Lab’s merger with American company Vector Acquisition would have flow-on benefits for Māhia and the wider Hawke’s Bay region.

The deal values the company at $US4.1 billion ($NZ5.6bn) and is expected to be completed by the end of June.

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Rongo voiced his concern on social media.

“I thought at the time the offer to be inappropriate, as we as an iwi can more than adequately take care of our own community, and secondly that some time in the future Rocket Lab’s kind gesture would be used as some form of American corporate grandstanding, which unfortunately has come to fruition,” Rongo said in a post to Facebook.

Former chairman and chief executive of Rongomaiwahine Iwi Trust Mo Rongo.

Former chairman and chief executive of Rongomaiwahine Iwi Trust Mo Rongo. Photo: LDR / Alice Angeloni

Rongo resigned from the trust in September after five years as chair and one year as chief executive.

“[During that time] I was vehemently opposed to taking funds from Rocket Lab or other corporates that may lead to us or our beneficiaries being beholden to that entity,” he told Local Democracy Reporting.

“We’ve been here 1000 years and we’ll be here 1000 years after they’re gone. We’ll be fine.

“As a beneficiary of the Rongomaiwahine Trust, I respectfully hope the board or chair rethink the appropriateness of still accepting the kind offer of $1000.”

He thanked Bailey for the apology.

It comes amid controversy over the launch of a United States military satellite by Rocket Lab from its base on Māhia Peninsula last week, and growing concern among tangata whenua, peace advocates and the community about the company’s presence.

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Green Party MPs Teanau Tuiono and Dr Elizabeth Kerekere attended a community hui at Tuahuru Marae yesterday to discuss whānau concerns about Rocket Lab.

Paul Ratapu was approached for comment.

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