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Call for answers over Te Mato Vai project

Friday March 16, 2018 Written by Published in Environment
The long-running Te Mato Vai project has attracted criticism from the Opposition spokesman for finance and the economy, James Beer. This photograph was taken in 2016, when the project was said to have made significant progress. 16020102 The long-running Te Mato Vai project has attracted criticism from the Opposition spokesman for finance and the economy, James Beer. This photograph was taken in 2016, when the project was said to have made significant progress. 16020102

The Cook Islands government appears to have reached the bottom of the funding barrel for the long-running Te Mato Vai water mains project, says the Opposition spokesman for finance and the economy, James Beer

 

In a letter to CINews he called on the Cook Islands government to verify whether it had approached the New Zealand government for further assistance to complete the project, and whether the country had in fact run out of aid money for it.

“If the answer to a question raised by New Zealand media at a press conference with PM Henry Puna and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern at the Office of the Prime Minister on Wednesday last week was any indication, the answer was ‘yes’,” Beer said.

“The question, asked by a Newsroom reporter, went something like this: “A question to both prime ministers (and) the New Zealand foreign affairs minister, Winston Peters. Peters says Te Mato Vai project -  the big water project here, has got some big problems and that New Zealand is looking at a huge aid bill that should never have happened. Can you give us a list of these problems’?

“Here is what we know so far”, said Beer. “China lent $23 million to the Cook Islands for stage 1. New Zealand has provided $15 million dollars towards stage 2 and other works, and some of that aid money has already been spent.

“We also know substantial questions were raised by petitioners about the proposed works, about costs, about conflicts of interest, about water treatment, about ongoing maintenance costs, about water rates and quality control and there were questions raised by John Batty, the former supervising engineer from Kew Consultants, in connection with the standards applied to the (pipe) joints amongst other things.

“PM Puna attempted to answer the question by saying the Cook Islands and New Zealand were working at these concerns, but had not yet engaged the other government because the ‘other’ government did not presently have diplomatic representation in Wellington.

“As the Chinese are the ‘other government’ in this 2012 tripartite agreement, can one then deduce that the big problems mentioned above must relate to Stage 1, Chinese component of Te Mato Vai?

So what are the big problems to which New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister refers? 

“And why was PM Puna answering these questions and not the deputy prime minister (Teariki Heather), who was responsible for much of the first stage (of the project)?

“And if New Zealand is looking at a huge aid bill - in addition to what has already been pledged, and the project was costed at $60 million, what are the problems and how big are they?”

Beer said Cook Islanders had expressed wide concerns about the project and had even petitioned parliament about it.

People were now wondering why a government faced with such concern and scrutiny over Te Mato Vai had not made doubly sure they did everything within budget, within time and to the standards demanded by such major works - and had failed to ensure someone would be made responsible to get the best out of the project for Cook Islands taxpayers and New Zealand donors.

“So far the project, which was predicted to be completed in three years but no later than five years, has exceeded its time.

“There would have to be a miracle for the works to be completed before the end of 2018; not just because of quality control concerns, but because as the Opposition stated clearly in parliament in 2014, consultation with landowners needed to start in earnest and that some of the money should be set aside to compensate landowners.

“To leave them out of the discussions would be a grave error. The government failed to listen, but listen they did when the Manihiki landowners demanded money to go shopping on Rarotonga as compensation for their land used for the Manihiki solar farm.

“That issue still persists. If the money that was provided by the Chinese loan for stage 1 and by the New Zealand government and the Crown for stage 2 is insufficient to complete the works and requires the further assistance of the New Zealand taxpayer, then the prime minister should inform the public of the exact cause of the response from New Zealand’s minister for foreign affairs.

“Let’s hear these concerns, because saying “the other government does not have diplomatic representation in Wellington”, is a poor excuse for not coming clean.

“And that begs the question of the original $60 million: what is the balance of the aid money from New Zealand and where has the money gone?”  

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