Featherston, above, and Martinborough, below, wastewater treatment plants. PHOTOS/FILE

Councillors speak out on Three Waters

Three South Wairarapa councillors have come out swinging at the Water Services Entity Bill, labelling it “a giant stitch-up”.

Greytown Ward councillors Rebecca Fox, Leigh Hay, and Alistair Plimmer have issued a statement that contrasts with the South Wairarapa councillors’ joint submission on the legislation.

“We all agree the current method of funding the Three Waters across the country is not sustainable. Something needs to change,” the Greytown councillors said.

“However, we believe taking assets away from those who have paid for and developed these and placing them directly into the hands of a fundamentally undemocratic and unaccountable organisation, controlled by a minority, is not the way.

“Our position as Greytown Ward councillors differs from the collective council view, and we make no apology for this.

“Additionally, we have each made submissions to the select committee and have each asked to present in person.”

They said under the legislation, water assets “paid for by generations  of taxpayers and ratepayers, Maori and non-Maori alike, will be effectively placed under the control of a small self-appointed, unaccountable minority”.

“Regardless of ethnicity, we should all be opposed to this removal of democratic rights,” they said.

As per legislation, water services entities would have a two-tier governance structure: a regional representative group [RRG], and an independent, competency-based, professional board.

Half the members of the RRG would be appointed by councils and must be elected members or council chief executives.

They can also be senior council managers if they have the appropriate knowledge, skills, and experience.

The other half of the RRG would be mana whenua representatives through iwi and hapu appointments.

The role of the RRG is to set the strategic direction of the water services entity and appoint a professional board based on appropriate knowledge, experience, and skills.

The RRG also reviews the performance of the entity.

The members of the RRG would appoint the independent competency-based board.

Three Waters Programme executive director Hamiora Bowkett said the government believed it was appropriate that there be involvement of both local authority owners and mana whenua at the strategic oversight level of the governance structure.

“Water services entities will be required to give effect to the principles of te Tiriti and must give effect to Te Mana o te Wai.

“They also have responsibilities to uphold existing Treaty Settlements that relate to water services provision. So it is appropriate that mana whenua are at the table setting expectations for the entities in relation to these matters.

“Under the Articles of Te Tiriti, mana whenua have the right to participate in decisions that relate to water services.

“They also have responsibilities as kaitiaki to protect Te Mana o te Wai, the health and mauri of our water.”

In their latest statement, the Greytown councillors said Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta had framed the issue of co-governance at the strategic levels of the Three Waters reform.

“Focusing the country’s attention on co-governance at the higher levels of the Three Waters structure has meant little examination of the clear requirements for everyone who exercises functions, duties, and powers under the bill to not only give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, but also to Te Mana o te Wai.

“Regional councils already give effect to Te Mana o te Wai by developing a long-term vision through discussion with communities and tangata whenua, but under the Water Services Entities Bill, Te Mana o te Wai statements can be issued, at will, by iwi and hapu for any specific body of water within their territory.

“This will give a very small, self-selected and unaccountable few wide-ranging powers that lack strict definitions.

“The really concerning part of this is the Water Services Entities will be obliged to give effect to these statements.

“However, ratepayers, that is all of us who will be paying for the services we are to receive, will have no right or means to make such statements or to even challenge, dispute or object to them.” — NZLDR

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