Te Vai Ora Maori: Submission to the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill 2020

Te Vai Ora Maori: Submission to the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill 2020

Te Vai Ora Maori: Submission to the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill 2020.
Justine Matatoa Flanagan, Andy Kirkwood.

Contact: [firstName] @ islandbooth.com.


This is a working draft. Published 11 Sept 2020. Updated 17 Sept 2020.


Te Vai Ora Maori — Clean, Safe Water Rarotonga

Te Vai Ora Maori (TVOM) is a community group formed in 2019 to lobby to for clean safe water — free of chemicals and free for the people. We advocate for sustainable solutions to infrastructure projects in Rarotonga.

The group drafted the public petition Anti-chemical Treatment of the Water Supply of Rarotonga. The petition calls for water to remain free; and for the implementation of physical (rather than chemical) water treatment methods. The petition was signed by 1433 residents and presented to Parliament in June 2020. The petition is currently ‘on the table’ — awaiting appointment to select committee.

The To Tatou Vai Authority Bill 2020

The To Tatou Vai Authority Bill 2020 went through first and second readings when presented to Cook Islands Parliament in June 2020.

The key functions of the bill are to:

  • Establish a new statutory corporation, the water authority To Tatou Vai;
  • Enable the new authority to be financially independent, allowing for a regime of water access and use charges;
  • Legislate landowner catchment management committees.

Prior to the bill, water has been supplied either free of charge (for domestic use since 1972); or with government choosing not to impose provisions that allow for commericial water rates.

This page combines the Te Vai Ora Maori written submission; the oral submission and presentation made to the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill 2020 Select Committee (24 Aug 2020); and provides links to key reference documents and news items.


01 The Voice of the people

Water should remain free to the People and the People have made this position clear to government.

In 2019 Te Vai Ora Maori drafted a petition calling for water to remain free of charge. The Anti-chemical Treatment of the Water Supply of Rarotonga petition was signed by over 1400 residents; and it still remains for Parliament to appoint a select committee to hear the grievances.

Anti-chemical Treatment of the Water Supply of Rarotonga: Free water.

In 2014, the Te Mato Vai Petition attracted nearly 2000 signatures, and also objected to the introduction of user-pays.

Te Mato Vai Petition: No user-pays.

Implementing a cost recovery mechanism seems to be a loan covenant set by the Asian Development Bank. If so, this commitment was made by executive government — and not by the people.

The people do not consent to legislation that imposes user pays.


02 Free allocation means a monthly water bill

‘Free allocation’ does not mean free water for the people.

If To Tatou Vai is required by law to be financially independent 4(b), then the people will be burdened.

Those that have the means to go ‘off-the-mains’ and collect their own water will do so. Those that work in town are likely to live within their allocation.

Most affected will be families (nappies, laundry, baths and showers, cleaning, home gardens).

Costs must be met by consumers. Fewer consumers = higher water charges.

Above Fewer consumers = higher charges.
For TTV to be financially independent, all costs must be met by consumers.
As consumers with the financial means go ‘off-the-mains’; and households change water-use behaviours to live within the allocation; water charges will increase for the remaining consumers.

Attempts to misdirect understanding are duly noted. Devices include — but are not limited to — separate metering 29(4); compulsory participation 29; periodic charges 29(5); debt due to the Authority by the Crown 31(2)(a); and regulating (restricting) the private use of water 66(c). These are all ways that the legislation openly conceals cost recovery.

The people want to trust their leaders but phrase such as ‘free allocation’ betray that trust.

Free water is not...

Above Free allocation = water charges.
Phrases used by executive government to openly conceal the introduction of water charges.



03 Dividing communities

Accusations of ‘waste’ and ‘excessive use’ are divisive and will negatively impact the wellbeing of our communities.

Water is not just a utility. It is also recreation; it is comfort; and it is central to our island lifestyle. The mamas water rauti, tiare maori, and tiare teina: non-food crops used for decoration, celebration, investiture.

In summer, ‘water-use’ is kids cooling down in a paddling pool.

We grow our own food. Crops and animals need water. Our small-scale growers and farmers provide food security. Charges for ‘growing’ will added to the cost of living.

This is not commercial use, and this is not domestic use; we are proudly semi-rural.

The behavioural change needed is on the part of executive government — to take stock of local needs, and to value local culture.


04 Waste — not

The bill is an ill-fit for a semi-rural, tropical pacific population living on an island with abundant water. Borrowed rhetoric has been used to justify water charges.

Losses from the old system have been estimated at 40-70%. Now that the pipes are fixed, there will be nearly three times the amount of water.

New storage tanks improve network pressure and provide a buffer in times of low rainfall. Yet we are already being chastised for ‘wasting water’.

When asked to substantiate ‘excessive use’, government claims that metering for the ‘next three years’ is required to collect data. This is disingenuous.

The Te Mato Vai Project is nearly two decades in the making, ‘one of the largest infrastructure project in Cook Islands history; second only to the Rarotonga International Airport’, etc. There have been numerous reports on water-use; propoposed tariffs; metering as part of Project City; the management regimes (including household metering) in the pa enua. The design of the Te Mato Vai system is based on current and projected water demand — data.

The real ‘waste’ is the purchase and installation of meters when moneys would be better spent on the purchase and installation of household UV systems.


05 The true cost of corporatisation

The additional overhead of establishing a statutory corporation includes (a largely redundant) board of directors; accounting systems; meter reading; debt recovery; payments to landowner catchment committees; and the ever-increasing cost of chemical supply, chemical operation, and chemical waste disposal.

Despite the new pipes, we’ve been told that annual costs will balloon from $800k under ICI, to $2.8m for To Tatou Vai.

We all want clean safe water, but forming a new SOE is a fiscal misstep.

Physical treatment methods make more sense (while costing fewer cents).

Te Mato Vai: Chemical cost.

Above Te Mato Vai: Chemical Cost.
Supply estimated at $500k (calcium hypochlorite + polyaluminum chloride). The true cost of chemical water treatment includes the disposal of water treatment residuals/waste management.


06 Custodians of land and water

Custodianship is about preserving our island for future generations. Landowner catchment committees (Part 3) will sustain the vital connection between people, the land, and our water.

Appointment to a committee is a duty charged to family members and traditional leaders. An act of service that we should acknowledge with kai kai — but not with a meal ticket.

Allowing the minister to directly set fees or allowances 66(f) makes the proposed management structure vulnerable to corruption. Catchment committee payments should be transparent and regulated by the CIIC board (as proposed for the TTV board) or by another independent regulator.

Another concern is the potential conflict between the TTVA Bill and the Environment Act 2003. Both are about the regulation of development activities.

  • The Takuvaine Intake Catchment Committee was formed under the Environment Act, and the regulatory framework is directly relevant to the management of catchment areas.
  • If TTV were to be sold or dissolved (and the TTVA legislation repealed), what would happen to the committees?
  • The Environment Act 2003 seems the more appropriate home for catchment committees legislation.
Combined catchment area of Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

Above Combined water catchment area for Rarotonga, Cook Islands. The TTVA Bill legislates the management of this area by landowner catchment committees - a separate committee for each catchment valley; noting that the Native Land Court currently recognises no formal titles for the Ngatoe catchment valley.


07 Commercial interests

The TTVA Bill is a one-sided commercial contract that seeks to transfer ownership of a natural community resource to the state.

When pressed to ensure that the legislation prohibits privatisation or transfer of water ownership — the response has been evasive.

This is not about the resale of fixed assets: the concern is not the fate of used vehicles or office equipment.

The purchaser would acquire a water supply monopoly; the right to control access and use; and the ability to license water collection and sale (e.g. bottling).

Minor rewording was proposed at landowner meetings; however section 66(c) still seeks to regulate the access and use of all natural water sources (and desalination plants). This right could be exploited by a future administration; or by commercial interests.

State control of water — which could then become private control of water — is not acceptable. Axe 66(c).


08 In service to the public

To Tatou Vai should revert to a government department, funded from general taxation.

General taxation distributes the burden of funding infrastructure equitably. Those who earn more, contribute more. Those who earn less — our elderly and those with young families — are supported by wage earners.

State funding of the public water supply provides opportunities for agri-business growth. The MFEM 2020 Economic Response Plan imagines a regenerated SMART agriculture sector leading the post-Covid-19 pivot. Vague and uncertain water charges are destabilising and will undermine these initiatives. Crops need water — ideally water free from chemical contaminants.

Just as with the solar-power net metering, commerical operators are those with the means and incentive to go ‘off-the-mains’. They are more likely to install private rain-, or groundwater harvesting systems. As commerical operators become self-sufficient, the economic burden of funding the public supply will be re-allocated to domestic users, or less-capitalised commercial operators.

Early tariff reports proposed a separate rate be charged to the public sector: government agencies, public health services, and schools. Including the proposed ‘debt due’ for domestic allocation; government will still need to commit significant budget to pay-back To Tatou Vai each month.

The impact of water charges on community facilities, such as meeting houses, puna clinics and sports clubs has not been forecast.


09 Funding infrastructure

We call on our Ministry of Finance and Economic Management to ‘work a bit harder’ on ways to supplement the general tax take.

Charging per-head — departure and bed tax — will see reduced returns given the decline in tourist numbers. Projections are also for an increase in long-term tourism.

We propose initiatives such as the Steineken Tax, a small charge added to the purchase price of discretionary household items. Consumers will suffer paying for water, but are more-than-willing to pay for ‘beer’.

Departure Tax / Bed Tax / Steineken (beer) Tax.

Above Departure Tax / Bed Tax / Steineken (beer) Tax Source IBID.


10 Public water supply for Rarotonga

The vaka consultations, orals submissions, and landowner meetings reveal that the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill has been drafted for ‘elsewhere’.

‘Elsewhere’ (or “in other countries…”), is often referred-to by the minister, but that place that has no bearing on the culture, geology, ecology, or socio-economic realities of Rarotonga. Copy-paste is not good enough.

The TTVA Bill is the product of external influences and priorities. It is not for our benefit.

On behalf of the people of the island, we call for the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill select committee to #killTheBill.




Classification/subjects: Cook Islands, economy, infrastructure, water authority, To Tatou Vai, Rarotonga, drinking-water, user-pays, cost recovery, ADB.



English: To Tatou Vai Authority Bill 2020

Te Vai Ora Maori: Submission to To Tatou Vai Authority Bill 2020

  • Environment Act 2003. PacLII.
    “Inland waters” means the waters and banks of any stream, river, or lake together with the bed (whether dry or not) of any stream, river or lake (for the purposes of this definition “bank” shall include all that area of land extending away from the stream, river, or lake and measured at right angles to a distance of 5 metres from the bank of that stream, river and lake);
    Environment (Takuvaine Water Catchment Management Plan) Regulations 2006
  • 19 Jan 2014: Te Mato Vai water consultations generates support and caution. Cook Islands News.
    …the Annual Budget appropriates funds…maintenance of the current water system including staff costs. For the current financial year, the allocation to the Water Division is $750,000.
  • 13 May 2019 PDF: Terms Of Reference: For Supply Of Water Treatment Chemicals. To Tatou Vai Ltd.
    1.2(iii) Quantities required are indicative only at this stage, represented as an annualised total as below:
    A. Poly Aluminum Chloride: 75-100 Tonnes
    B. Calcium Hypochlorite: 8-10 Tonnes
    1.5 Estimated Value of the Works
    The Principal has estimated the value of the works at between $NZD 350,000.00 and $NZD 500,000.00.
  • Te Mato Vai — Stage 2 — Expert Independent Review. Ministry of Justice. Mar 2020.
    Prepared for intake landowners, this report provides estimates on PACl waste/sludge volume and operational assessment; costing for remote monitoring; and diversion systems.
    Cost of implementing diversion estimated at $50k per intake. The one-off cost to retrofit physical treatment/only collect clear water will cost the same amount as a single year of chemical supply.
  • To Tatou Vai Authority Bill 2020.
  • To Tatou Vai Authority Bill, Vaka Takitumu consultation. 30 July 2020.
    Annual costs for the new water authority estimated at $2.8m; $1.2m for operations; $1.6m for staff.
    (Paraphrasing the TTV Chair) “No-one would want to buy To Tatou Vai — all we own is a couple of trucks, a scooter, and a photocopier.”
  • Takuvaine Landowner Meeting. 3 Sept 2020.
    To Tatou Vai Authority Bill — controlling people’s private use of water (Presentation Slide).
    Reference to rainwater and tankwater were proposed to be removed; and a condition added: “where reasonably required to protect the volumes and quality of the water which passes through the network”.
  • Presentation to the To Tatou Vai Select Committee (Facebook Album). Aug 2020. Te Vai Ora Maori.
  • 22 Aug 2020: Govt is to amend water bill. Cook Islands News.
    “What we will do is make sure the allocation we are looking at for water will be sufficient for households to use without being charged for their water — that’s the aim here,” Brown told RNZ. “But again, until we have the system up and running and the meters in place, and I would expect two to three years before we have the data available to make an informed decision on what charges will be.”
    …MPs had also agreed that Aitutaki, which was to have a similar reticulation scheme, would not be included within the current legislation. Brown said it was felt Aitutaki needed to be covered by separate legislation.
  • 7 Sept 2020: Private sector lobbies Govt to allow long-term tourism. Cook Islands News.
  • Te Vai Ora Maori — Clean, Safe Water Rarotonga (Facebook Open Group).

Cook Islands Water Resource Management Policy and Infrastructure Planning

All reports are PDFs.


Working Draft. Updated: 17 Sept 2020.


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