What can the Maori meaning of governance teach us?

As Western economies tie themselves in knots trying to protect financial markets from future harm and arguing about what role governance plays in that process, commentators have been struggling to define governance and who should be responsible for it. We found this very apposite quote from New Zealand’s Business Day blog “Stirring the Pot” which was discussing a Massey University governance conference. The author, Bruce Sheppard, is a regular speaker at the conference and was leading a discussion about the Maori approach to governance.

First of all some definitions.

The purpose of governance from one of the speakers, a South African judge: “the purpose of governance, being that those in control of the process have the job of caring for others not at the table by making decisions in the knowledge that the absent are utterly incapacitated, intellectually handicapped, and total dependant on the outcome of the decisions made for their daily well being.”

On dealing with leadership failure:

Asked how Maori leaders dealt with leadership failure, one of the contributors, a Maori CEO of a health board, commented, in Bruce’s words “As quick as a flash she said “we killed them.”  And I faster than a speeding bullet said, “Yes I agree more Maori governance principles are needed in today’s society and business”.

Admittedly his comment was highly sarcastic, and deliberately so to illustrate the quality of thinking at the table. However he finished with a salient point about tribal factions and disrespect for ancient treaties: “Let us all stop whining, accept the world as it is and work out how to make the best of it.”

In Maori culture, the Haka, that ritual dance performed with such finesse by the All Blacks rugby team is known a “posture dance”. From where we sit, there are many parallels between Bruce’s Maori governance conference and the the Anglo-US governance debate. We could continue to argue about the failings of governance constructs, the role of issuers or investors and disrespect for ancient cultural norms and perform our respective Haka. On the other hand, as Bruce says: “….we could just get on and do something about it.”

The Financial Reporting Council’s consultation on the Stewardship Code is our opportunity to “get on do something”. It represents a fresh start and hopefully a new approach to the governance of governance. Sir Christopher Hogg has a somewhat unenviable task in bringing together a disparate group of stakeholders with widely divergent views. Let us hope he can lead us in an ngeri rather than having to resort to the more bellicose peruperu.


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