The Prime Minister held an extra Cabinet meeting for the week on Thursday to start looking at the first draft of the 2015/2016 national budget and Te Mato Vai landowner objections.
He said the extra meeting was being held because Minister of Finance Mark Brown would be busy with an Asia Development Bank annual board meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan from May 2 - 5.
At Thursday’s meeting Cabinet continued discussing the second phase of the $64 million Te Mato Vai project and ongoing land ownership issues.
Earlier in the week at Tuesday’s post-Cabinet press conference, Puna said Te Mato Vai’s next stage and the questions involving land would be top of the agenda at the second meeting.
“It’s a very big issue... and one that we need to be very careful about because there seems to be a lot of emotion tied up with it,” he said.
“Not from all the landowners, but some of the landowners – but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to pay less attention to it.”
Puna said Cabinet had to be very cautious in dealing with the issue and was not rushing into a decision.
“We need to take our time dealing with it – even if it means a slight delay to the commencement of the project.”
The Prime Minister said Ministers would meet with their officials in Cabinet next week, and hoped to be in a position to make a firm decision on how they would proceed with the land issue with the water intakes then.
In February, the Takuvaine water catchment committee of landowners put an objection to Minister of Infrastructure Teariki Heather and the High Court in order to gain time for proper consultation over use of their land for the project.
This stage two work involves upgrades to existing intakes and trunk pipelines and new treatment and reservoir storage facilities to help improve the quality and reliability of the water supply. However, each of the 12 intakes is on privately owned land. At present the project managers are not offering owners any compensation for the use of their land.
CINews understand objections have also been made by several other land owner groups at Avatiu, Tupapa, Avana, Taipara, Totokoitu Ki Uta, Turangi and Papua.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has indicated parliament will sit by mid-June this year.
However when asked this week whether he had a date in mind, he was vague about the details.
“Well, there are scenarios that have been put to us and of course we will be guided by the constitutional requirements as well as other practical requirements, but at this stage we are looking at a possible budget session in the middle of June this year.”
Under the Cook Islands Constitution, parliament must sit before the end of the financial year, which is on June 30.