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Keep our water free: Petition against water tariffs gains traction

Wednesday 26 June 2024 | Written by CI News Staff | Published in Economy, Local, National

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Keep our water free: Petition against water tariffs gains traction
Keep Our Water Free Petition organisers, from left, Joyana Finch, Metua Vakapora and Justine Flanagan. SUPPLIED/24062520

A petition opposing the planned water tariffs in Rarotonga is gaining momentum just couple of days after its launch.

The “Keep Our Water Free” Petition was launched earlier this week in response to water agency To Tatou Vai’s plans to introduce water tariffs, starting on January 1, 2025.

The organisers of the petition are also encouraging the community to attend the To Tatou Vai water tariff meetings in Rarotonga this week, starting tonight at Calvary Hall in Vaka Puiakura, and find out more about the plan to introduce monthly billing.

In a statement, Joyana Finch, the petition committee spokesperson, said: “We are not petitioning against To Tatou Vai’s current operations. No one thinks water pipes and technicians appear out of thin air. This petition is requesting that the government continues to fund TTV as it does now, from the annual budget.”

Last week, Finch released a video poem titled “Dear Mr Brown...” to social media. The video calls upon the Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown to honour promises made to the public of Rarotonga.

“Everyone has strong feelings about the water, I addressed my poem to our Prime Minister as we have chosen Mark Brown steer our vaka,” Finch said.

PM Brown told Cook Islands News last week that the government had already made a commitment to not charge household users for “reasonable” water usage.

“The key thing is that I wanted to point out and emphasise again the commitment we made more than four years ago during our public consultations, that we will not be charging households for water, but we do encourage people to ensure they conserve and protect sensible use of water,” said Brown, who is also the country’s Finance Minister.

“We are now working on what is a fair and reasonable amount of water for people to be able to use.”

While announcing plans to implement water usage charges from January 1, 2025, To Tatou Vai, in its Statement of Corporate Intent 2024-2028, said it needed at least an operating budget of $4.262 million in the 2024/25 year, increasing, due to inflation, by 2 per cent per year during the subsequent four years.

The water authority submitted a budget request of $3.9 million for the 2024/25 year to the Crown but was granted only $2.5m.

Brown said they are looking at ways to finance water operations, including potentially increasing departure tax for high water users like the tourism industry.

The petition can be signed by Cook Islands over the age of 18. and asks of the Parliament of the Cook Islands that: “...the collection, treatment, and reticulation of water continues without tariffs and ongoing-charges to users”.

“The form must be signed by hand, in person,” explains co-ordinator Justine Matatoa Flanagan. “The Cook Islands does not accept online petitions, but family currently living outside of Rarotonga can participate by post.”

According to the petition organisers, the Public Sector Code of Conduct also requires that public servants sign outside of work hours.

“TTV staff, teachers, nurses and catchment committee members - all of you can sign,” said Flanagan.

The statement added that petition locations can be found on the “Keep Our Water Free” Petition Facebook page and that forms will be available to sign at the tariff meetings.

“We are asking our MPs to change the law. No water bill. No user pays. Keep Our Water Free.”

Meanwhile To Tatou Vai is holding three public meetings this week to present the findings and recommendations from their April 2024 stakeholder consultations on water supply tariffs and gather public feedback.

The first meeting is tonight from 6pm-7.30pm for Vaka Puaikura at the Calvary Hall, followed by Vaka Takitumu at Ngatangiia Sunday School Hall on Thursday (6pm-7.30pm), and Vaka Te Au O Tonga at Sinai Hall on Friday (6pm-7.30pm).

In a public notice, TTV said: “Your insights and feedback are invaluable in determining fair and sustainable tariff for water supply for the Rarotonga community. Landowners of Rarotonga water catchment areas, and landowners at our Water Treatment Plant (Intakes), are especially invited to attend.”