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Letter: PM Brown’s departure tax proposal

Monday 8 July 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion

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Letter: PM Brown’s departure tax proposal

Dear Editor, I have to say, when I first read Prime Minister Mark Brown offer departure tax as a possible solution to pay for water (PM: Free water for households, June 22, Cook Islands News), because it was linked more directly towards visitors, who are responsible for the extra water consumption, I was more than a little flabbergasted.

Mostly because I conceived that a departure tax would also be levied against me and any other local departing for one of our rare overseas trips. 

Why should locals have to pay an increase in the departure tax for water when it is the tourism industry that should be shouldering this cost? I reasoned with myself. Oh, how wrong was I.

His point had gone completely over my head, I had to read between the lines. Really read. It wasn’t until a week later that the Prime Minister’s message started to make sense!

He had suggested departure tax as the solution not just because he loves the people, but he knew that as a government a departure tax would not require the level of administration or bureaucracy as having TTV (To Tatou Vai), a standalone agency with an office and staff to read water meters, prepare bills, collect payments and the unnecessary cost of a board to oversee what, I don’t know? Board room lunches? Board papers? Minute takers? And, all the politicking and positioning that these invariably invite? I’m really not sure.

I mean, the Prime Minister knew when he made this suggestion that water didn’t require its own Board of Directors. Why should it? ICI doesn’t have it.

What amount of decision making would a board need to make? It’s not as if every decision would be different from month to month? 

Would they be required to make a decision to turn off some poor families’ water supply because they had exceeded their quota month on month? Would they? Seriously, would they? The kids crying because they can’t get their water to make tea for breakfast and not having any water to flush the toilet or to brush their teeth? Would they decide to take the home owner to court to force them to pay for excess water usage? Would they really do that to the party voters?

The Prime Minister also knew when he suggested departure tax that water is free, he’s said that many times, others too! It’s just the cost of the infrastructure to deliver that water to our homes and businesses, that’s what needs to be paid! 

He knew, that the cost of the infrastructure with proper maintenance would be essentially fixed, year on year that cost would remain the same. It’s not the water we are charging, it’s the pipes and the tanks and their maintenance. He also knew that departure tax would also be variable.

More visitors, more tax. More visitors more water. Less visitors, less tax, less visitors, less water. In either situation we either get more tax, or more water.

The Prime Minister obviously with a clear eye on the country’s finances and being the man in charge of the money knows how budgets can blow out. From TMV (Te Mato Vai) to TTV it’s been a 100-million-dollar journey! 

Was this why he made that smart suggestion for a departure tax add-on? Was he also suggesting an amalgamation of TTV and ICI, or an absorption of TTV by ICI? I don't know. I’d have to read deeper between those lines.

So out with my calculator I did, and made a calculation of a fairly painless $15 per departing passenger that would easily without any real challenges on collection provide over $2.5m per annum to maintain TTV. There might even be a few dollars left over that could be spent on delivering free repairs to households for their leaky pipes or taps. All part of the maintenance of the lines to save water. From tank to tap, from the mountain to the lagoon, poetic, isn’t it? Could that money be better spent? I doubt it. 

Thank you, Prime Minister, for planting that seed. But wait, hang on! Why am I writing this. Didn’t the Prime Minister provide this solution to begin with?

Over to you PM.

‘Swampie’

(Name and address supplied)