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Ruta Mave: Broken promise- Government reneges on free water pledge

Monday 22 April 2024 | Written by ruthmave | Published in Editorials, Opinion


Ruta Mave: Broken promise- Government reneges on free water pledge
Ruta Tangiiau Mave. Photo: CI NEWS

Residential water meters are not to measure what we use, it is how we will pay for government’s monumental blunders and excuses, writes Ruta Mave.

How long is a promise supposed to last for? A week? A year? Forever? Wedding vows are promises of love, honour and faith. Through sickness and health, richer or poorer until death do us part. For the romantic at heart, one can add - beyond the veils of time.

The fact the average marriage ends in divorce for 60 per cent of couples does not support the seriousness of the promises made. Is a promise for forever still valid if, you have your fingers crossed behind your back?

On April 26, 2016, the Cook Islands News headlines read ‘Free water for consumers’ and it talked about the Cook Islands Party government making two key promises to traditional leaders. They were the land for the Mato Vai project will no longer be taken by warrant and domestic consumers will not be charged water rates. These promises were welcomed by the House of Ariki and aronga mana.

Prime Minister Mark Brown, as the Finance Minister, made those promises eight years ago, the average time of a marriage. The only problem is we didn’t get a fair share in the divorce and Brown has reneged and rewritten his promises to now be ‘to have and to hold so they can get richer while making us poorer’.

At the time Brown spoke in political circles while seemingly crossing his fingers in his deep pockets. He said dealing with landowners requires plenty of patience, diplomacy and tact on both sides.

He stressed government had made a commitment that the aronga rikiriki (households) will not be charged any water rates and charges will apply to the commercial sector only. Then in his next fork breath he says “We expect the commercial sector to pay their share but we cannot expect them to pay for the domestic users”. Huh?

He explained “we will look at ways and means to get the money required to operate and run the Rarotonga water authority. We currently spend $500,000 to maintain our current decrepit water system. Which is financed by general taxation revenues to cover staff, equipment and parts.”

He then manages to convolute the two in his next statement. “So, we are all paying, but some people use more water than others and some are making commercial gain from water paid for by taxpayers. We need to consider how to be fair to the people.”

So he establishes those who make commercial gain from water use should be charged and to be fair to ‘the people’ they won’t have water rates added because they are already paying for the water via taxes, but we can’t expect the commercial sector to pay for domestic use?

Is there a clause in their watertight marriage vows and promises made to the landowners and people of Rarotonga that applies to Mato Vai but not to the same man in a different suit now calling himself To Tatou Vai? Has the government managed to secure all the land while dropping any and all of the obligations they promised in the acquisition of the land?

Despite his promises, the consideration towards and the likelihood of water meters being applied to domestic users is already in motion. An expert on all these things from America said without showing any real numbers or facts at recent public meetings that it may be another two or three years before meters become a reality. I wonder if we will continue paying his high consultancy fee during this time?

Brown remarked “the common wish is for clean, potable and regular water supply – even the landowners want this”.

What if they find the commercial sector can reasonably support the domestic users, will meters still be added? If it is unfair to expect the commercial sector to be charged and not the domestic. Is it not equally unfair for the 15,000 residents to be charged, when 150,000 tourists use most of the water in half the time?

In 2016, the Mato Vai project was a $60 million tripartite project between the Cook Islands, China and New Zealand. A petition was sought to halt the project in 2014. A general opinion at the time did not trust the Chinese building after witnessing ongoing problems with the justice, police and stadium buildings built by them.

During the laying of the pipes a New Zealand engineer brought to the public attention the poor workmanship of the Chinese and would not sign them off as completed properly. A 2018 report by New Zealand consultancy Opus – now known as WSP – looked at claims of poor workmanship and raised questions over the materials used.

Fast forward to 2022 and the water project costs are now $120 million because those pipes had to be replaced in a remedial work funded by the New Zealand.

The government said it will take legal action against the Chinese company but later dropped it.

Residential water meters are not to measure what we use, it is how we will pay for government’s monumental blunders and excuses. 

  • In last week’s column, “Are we ready for the UN High chair?”, the author has retracted a statement claiming South Korea and Saudi Arabia wouldn’t share a room due to religious differences. The author was unable to verify this claim.


phil smith on 22/04/2024

Surely the commercial sector could be levied to pay for upgrades to the water system. Again, they have financial gain from it and the residential sector never had a supply issue until all the development occurred on the island. This would be the same for waste water. They could look at the cost as the price of doing business in paradise. Yes, that could push the cost to a tourist up but who wants the Cooks to be a cheap destination, plenty of other places in the world for that. Cheers Phil