CI News reported yesterday Tereora College head of maths Ngatokotoru Puna, a nephew of Prime Minister Henry Puna, was detained at Auckland airport for failing to meet the repayment requirements on his more than $100,000 student loan.
Puna was given his passport back only after he appeared in Court and made a $5000 repayment.
The story has caused a media frenzy in New Zealand, with outlets across the board reporting on Puna’s situation as the first person to be arrested over a student loan debt.
Under amendments to the Student Loan Scheme Act 2011, it strengthens Inland Revenue’s ability to deal borrowers by making it an offence for overseas-based borrowers to continue avoiding repayments.
The legislation enables Inland Revenue to request an arrest warrant for borrowers if the District Court is satisfied that a borrower has committed the offence and is about to leave or attempt to leave New Zealand after returning from overseas.
Hundreds of people have supported the IRD’s action against Puna and taken to social media to air their views.
“I have a large student loan and have been living in Australia for three years. I have put over $20,000 onto my loan in that time to keep it from increasing,” said a commenter on Facebook.
“I have no sympathy for this guy. He clearly took out the loan with no intention of paying it and now it’s caught up with him.”
Another said perhaps his arrest would prompt other people overseas to make the repayments: “Reading the article the $3.2 billion owed is a staggering amount. And correct me if I’m wrong isn’t this taxpayer money?”
Many criticised the mention that he his a relative of Prime Minister Henry Puna: “What difference does it make who this guy is related to? Oh right, you have wealthy and influential connections, you don’t need to pay. That’s the way New Zealand runs under John Key. I daresay he will intervene and cancel the debt.”
Others took to Facebook to lend their support to Puna, saying the New Zealand government was only targeting him because of his race.
It is unclear how Puna’s $40,000 ballooned to over $130,000, it could be partly due to not making his repayments but also because he did not declare he was living in the Cook Islands.
As a realm country, overseas-based borrowers in the Cook Islands can apply to have their loan made interest-free. - PW