Christchurch YWCA’s governance questioned after chair’s lucrative payment

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Mar 22, 2024 |

Photo: Unsplash

This article has been updated at (10PM March 28th 2024) at the bottom. Full content of a legal letter received on Thursday 28th March 2024, at 5PM has been published.

Questions are being raised over why the board of a Christchurch transitional housing charity agreed to allocate $156,200 to its chair for five months work.

Sources told Chris Lynch Media that in September 2023, YWCA Chair Christine Leliei-Fenika and the Board held a special meeting to amend its constitution.

Staff at the YWCA weren’t told about meeting, potentially breaching constitutional requirements prompting questions about the transparency and governance of the charity.

Another source alleged that at that meeting, the board changed the constitution to financially benefit Lelei-Fenika.

Chris Lynch Media has obtained the YWCA’s annual report for 2023 – a document yet to be released to the public.

It said “subsequent to balance to date, the board resolved to pay remuneration to the President (chairwoman) of $156,200, for services provided from April 2023 to September 2023.”

(This fee is well above even commercial directorship rates, with the chairwoman of Christchurch International Airport paid $95,000 for 12 months in 2023.)

The report also said “The Board agreed that this was a fair value for services rendered. Of the total $77,000 relates to the financial year ending 30 June 2023 and this amount has recognised as a wage expense in the performance report accordingly.”

The rationale behind the remuneration, especially its size relative to commercial directorship rates, and whether full or partial payment has been made, remains unclear.

Official records show that Christine Lelei-Fenika ascended to the presidency role in April 2023, having previously served as vice president, raising questions about why she received payment for tasks that were ostensibly voluntary in nature.

A former board member told Chris Lynch Media prior to Christine assuming the presidency, neither the preceding president nor the board members had ever received compensation.

“We never would have even entertained the idea of diverting resources from a charity committed to supporting the most vulnerable women in need. No board member was ever paid. It’s just wrong.”

Another source said the payment was a “shocking deviation from the the spirit of volunteerism and selflessness that the organisation champions.

“There is a responsibility to ensure the funds allocated to support the vulnerable are used wisely and ethically.

It is disheartening to see such misuse of resources, especially by those entrusted with governance and leadership.”

Christine Lelei-Fenika appeared to have two LinkedIn profiles and held positions at several non-for-profit organisations in Christchurch.

However, the agencies spoken to by Chris Lynch Media said she no longer worked for them.

Mahina Kingi-Kaui, who was named on the annual report as the “Vice-President” said she resigned from the board take up a national position.

In a subsequent (and now deleted post) she said “I would never agree to this ridiculous amount of money and be a party to such, in fact I had resigned in September 2023 before the AGM and I hadn’t even seen the the AGM Report.”

However publicly available documents show she left on October the 20th 2023 using another name Margaret.

Efforts to reach other board members yielded no results while Christine Lelei-Fenika did not return messages.

A family member said Christine refused to speak to Chris Lynch Media.

A Department of Internal Affairs spokesperson said they were aware of concerns raised regarding Young Women’s Christian Association Christchurch Incorporated.

“As matters relating to this charity are subject to our regulatory processes, we cannot comment further at this time.”

Chris Lynch Media received a legal letter at 5PM, Thursday 28th 2024. Here is the full contents of the letter:

Chris Lynch Christchurch

By email only: [email protected]

Defamation of YWCA and Christine Leliei-Fenika

1. We act for the YWCA.

2. On 22 March 2024, you published:

(a) A headline “Christchurch YWCA’s governance questioned after chair’s lucrative payment”;

(b) An article that contained defamatory statements including that YWCA had:

(i) Agreed to pay Christine $156,200 in her role as president of YWCA;

(ii) Agreed to pay Christine an amount that was well above commercial directorship rates, with the implication that the amounts paid to Christine were for services that were equivalent to those of a commercial director;

(iii) Changed its constitution to financially benefit Christine;

(iv) Not acted transparently or in accordance with proper governance; and

(v) Misused its resources.

3. These statements “lower the estimation of our client by right-thinking members of society” by attacking their reputation and integrity.

(a) The headline and the content of the article degrade the reputation of YWCA by bringing into question YWCA’s governance and reputation.

(b) The statements published by you are untrue and without genuine basis:

(i) Christine functioned as acting General Manager for the YWCA in the period from April 2023 to September 2023, due to the YWCA not having anyone employed in that role in that period. This was a role that went significantly beyond the role that might be expected of a President or of a commercial director;

(ii) In Board meetings, there was discussion regarding what Christine should be paid for performance of these services as acting General Manager for the period from April 2023 to September 2023. The final figure that was

1 Sim v Stretch [1936] 2 All ER 1237.


agreed and paid to Christine was $77,000 (gross). This Board is satisfied that this constituted fair value for the services as acting General Manager

Christine provided to the YWCA;

(iii) Separately, although the Board has proposed changes to the constitution, and called a special general meeting to pursue constitutional changes, none of these changes related to the fees that Christine was paid nor did the proposed changes make the payment possible. No changes to the constitution have in fact been made or implemented as yet;

Retraction and apology

4. We expect a Court would not hesitate to award damages for defamation, absent an adequate retraction and apology by you, given the severity of the defamatory comments, and the impact that the comments would have on the reputation of YWCA and Christine.

5. Our client requires you to:

(a) Immediately remove the article from all internet domains within your control;

(b) Publish on your website and Facebook, an article with the heading “Retraction

of article about YWCA”;

(c) Publish the following for that article:

On Friday, 22 March 2024, Chris Lynch Media published an article about YWCA and its Board. In that article, we reported some details inaccurately. In the article it was wrongly suggested that YWCA’s president had been paid a large sum of money for her undertaking duties as president of YWCA. In the article, we also wrongly accused the Board of changing its constitution to financially benefit the President, and acting not in accordance with proper governance.

Chris Lynch Media regrets publication of that article, and the article has now been removed.

Chris Lynch Media unreservedly apologises to the YWCA and its Board.

(d) Make a contribution toward the YWCA’s legal fees – $2,000.

6. If you fail to do so by 10:00am on Tuesday 2 April 2024 then our client will be obliged to look to commencing court proceedings for defamation.

7. We look forward to confirmation from you that you will action this retraction forthwith.

Yours sincerely


Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

Have you got a news tip? Get in touch here

got a news tip?