A traditional leaders’ group is calling on Parliament to “postpone’ the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill until it is “thoroughly acceptable to the landowners”.
Koutu Nui O Te Kuki Airani made this plea in their submission to the Parliamentary select committee looking into the controversial water bill earlier this month.
Select committee reports on To Tatou Vai Authority Bill, Crimes Bill and the Immigration Bill are expected to be tabled in Parliament this week.
In a 17-page submission, Koutu Nui voiced their concerns about sections of the Bill which they say will affect human health, families, communities and ecosystems.
The group said they are also “very concerned” about the status of tenure of Cook Islands native land, the restrictions on landholders with regard to development.
“Most concerning of all is that, despite considerable public demonstration of unhappiness and objection with this Bill, Government appears so far to have taken little heed to listening to the people of their objections to water tariffs, lack of landowner representation in the proposed new governance.”
Koutu Nui said they agree with those who made earlier submissions asking for this Bill to be delayed until the landowners in the 10 catchments have been fully informed by Government of its plans.
Their plea is not to proceed with passing this Bill and to re-draft it, incorporating suggested changes so that “eventually landowners can truly give prior, informed consent to the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill”.
Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown, who is the chairman of the select committee, earlier stated changes will be made to the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill before it returns to Parliament this week.
But Koutu Nui said spoken assurances have not been backed up by the written words of the Bill.
“Further, the issue of toxic waste by-products from the use of chemicals has not been resolved in that advice from chemical engineers (as opposed to civil engineers) has not been sought.
“We believe that an Environmental Impact Assessment should be carried out in order to protect human health and the fragile ecosystems upon which we depend.”
Koutu Nui also said the Bill runs counter to the Polynesian world view held by Cook Islands maori of a’roa, or having regard for the well-being of their community.
They said in keeping with the aro’a philosophy, the catchment landowners were prepared to give up their entitlement to royalties for water (which falls as rain on their lands and is captured at the intakes then used for public water supply), on condition that households (not businesses) would receive free water.
“This is in keeping with the sense of obligation that landowners who are also traditional leaders feel, in order to ensure the well-being of their matakeinanga or clan.
“But if the Cook Islands Government is adamant that householders will be charged for water, then landowners should be entitled to the annual royalties they would receive as of right in a developed country.”
The traditional leaders accept some people are wasteful of water, but the Koutu Nui 2014 annual general meeting comments did not foresee that they would be treated like criminals.
Most Cook Islanders rely on community opinion to pressure wrong-doers into changing their behaviour, they said.
“It is true that as our island society becomes more westernised, such community pressure has become less effective, and that there are diehards who do not believe societal norms or laws apply to them. Flagrant disregard, which might impact upon the community freshwater resource, should indeed be punished. But our general view is that as a society we should provide water, the essential for life, free to households as part of ensuring for the well-being of communities.”