Unbelievably, executive positions in the water services entities are already being advertised. It seems they are building the gallows for our democracy before the jury has heard the evidence.
I am heartened by progress in court action supported by the Taxpayer’s Union and many members of the public, on the advice that Minister Nanaia Mahuta used to support her recommendation to Cabinet to adopt her Three Waters legislation. The case is quite technical but has the potential to upset the minister’s plans if successful.
The important issue here though is that should this legislation pass, rate payers will lose control of their assets to these water entities, who have at best a tenuous connection to their rightful owners. The governance structures are so convoluted and the entities so large that the local voice has no chance of being heard. The minister has said that councils will still own their three waters assets. But ownership is in essence the right to control the assets, and this will not be possible, so the minister’s words are hollow and an attempt to calm the masses.
The other positive development is the pointed submission from the Auditor General John Ryan on the bill. He stated his concerns that the bill as drafted “could have an adverse effect on public accountability, transparency and organisational performance”. This is very strong language from the Auditor General’s office, who are always measured in their advice.
So, what would National do?
* We would engage with councils and work with them to solve the problems, and meet the standards that the new water regulator, Taumata Arowai, is demanding.
* We would enable and encourage councils to pool resources and capabilities where that makes sense.
* Co-funding partnerships between central government and local councils to fix specific water infrastructure challenges.
The key point is we would work with councils rather than seek to take their assets. We would ensure that ratepayers continue to own and have a direct say in the running of their three waters assets. After all, they paid for them in the first place.
Stuart Smith is a N Z National Party politician who has been a member of the House of Representatives for the Kaikōura electorate since 2014. This article was first published HERE