Traditional leaders in the Cook Islands say there has been poor consultation with landowners on a multi-million dollar water infrastructure project in Rarotonga.
The NZ$60 million initiative, known as Te Mato Vai, is a partnership between the Cook Islands, China and New Zealand.
Beverley Tse has more:
The water supply on Rarotonga is currently untreated. Under Te Mato Vai, a new water system will be installed, including UV treatment, improved storage capacity and new ring mains which will deliver potable, clean drinking water to all residential and commercial properties connected to the existing network. The Cook Islands Infrastructure Minister Teariki Heather says the project is progressing well.
"TEARIKI HEATHER: I've just been to China with the inspection of quality assurance for us for the Cook Islands and all partners involved to make sure that what we get from China is sort of like the real thing. So I'm quite happy that the recent visit with engineers, of course, from NZ, the assurance and also the standard, it's all A-ok."
He says consultations are being held on Rarotonga to iron out any issues.
TEARIKI HEATHER: We're having sort of consultations with the people right around Rarotonga and of course with the House of Ariki, Members of Parliament, and also the people on the main island itself. So public consultations are important for us and sort of letting our people know what's happening.
Teariki Heather says the project will stay within the boundaries of the main road, and won't cross into any landowners' properties. But the clerk of the House of Ariki, Tupuna Rakanui, says traditional leaders feel they were not properly consulted on the project and have sought answers from the Business Trade Investment Board.
TUPUNA RAKANUI: They hear that licenses will be granted to foreigners to commence developments in terms of WATSAN and yet here they are, they are the landowners. They own the lands inland where the water comes down, the reservoirs and our people own the land where these pipes will be running on. They haven't been consulted.
In November last year, the Cook Islands made a deal with the China Civil Engineering Company to upgrade the 26 kilometres of water pipes. A Lowy Institute researcher, Dr Philippa Brant, says she is interested in tracking the progression of China's aid programmes, as it has faced a number of problems in the past. She has recently been in the Cook Islands to study the project, which is considered the world's first joint aid venture between a recipient, a traditional western donor and China.
PHILIPPA BRANT: Something that really did strike me was that there was a genuine concern on the Chinese part that particularly the Chinese Embassy in Wellington, that they wanted to I guess make sure that any future projects that they're involved on did have a positive outcome for the people of the Cook Islands.
The master plan for Te Mato Vai is due for completion by December and construction will begin next year.