User pays push behind Cooks Te Mato Vai hold up
Cook Islands landowners are calling on the government to end their push to charge residents for water on the main island of Rarotonga.
A multi million dollar water supply system being built on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands remains at a standstill with the government and landowners unable to reach agreement.
The scheme, Te Mato Vai, which includes significant funding through New Zealand aid, began two years ago, but is being held up by landowners upset at the way the government has gone about the process.
One Avana land owner, Noeline Kainuku-Browne, says much of their concern is around the push to charge residents but not businesses.
She told Don Wiseman what is needed to sort the issue out.
NOELINE KAINUKU-BROWNE: Well perhaps if the government were to act in good faith and to be more transparent in the way they negotiate. I have been at practically all the negotiations and honestly the negotiations and the terms change from meeting to meeting from day to day.
DON WISEMAN: User pays is a big part of this, what is driving that?
NKB: Well the user pays it is a requirement by the donors. Now we don't mind user pays if they mean by that, by users if they were meaning the commercial users and if they meant the tourism the tourism accommodation ones. Because the tourists are the ones, the accommodation people use twice the amount of water per person per day than other people use. These are the official figures from water works.
DW: So there can't be as far as government is concerned any charging of business but they are prepared to charge the residents. Why do they need to charge anyone?
NKB: Well they have said that it will cost $1.4 million (New Zealand dollars) to run their figures, again their figures, about two thousand homes and if they are going to be charging this, as I have worked it out. They have told us they want to charge $60 a month so if you do the figures. Two thousand homes, sixty dollars a month times - 12 you get your magic figure 1.4 million. That is how I know or I am assuming that they are meaning the households and not businesses because they didn't mention the businesses whatsoever. And when we did ask about businesses they brushed it aside and said, oh they can't afford it.
DW: Would $60 a week be tough for most residents?
NHB: Well we are concerned for the low income people and the Mamas and Papas who are getting their pensions so, really it would be difficult for them. All they are asking for is for the government to be flexible and to be a little bit more creative in their solutions. You know, to look more towards the business community and towards the tourism community. Because by giving free water, up to a certain level, it is counting everybody. Whether you are a foreign worker a local worker, even a million dollar person, you know who owns great resorts and huge businesses. Everybody has got a home, everybody can have free water, up to a certain level. People with swimming pools, obviously, need to pay more. There should be excess charges, but when we say free water we are talking a liveable amount.
DW: In terms of the land owners agreeing to allow water to be taken from their properties or through their properties, what is needed to convince them?
NHB: We would need to be convinced that the government is taking notice of our concerns about householders and for them to change their focus to charge businesses. I mean, a business is a business, it is not a hobby. If you can't afford it perhaps it is not really a business.
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