Three Waters gets worse

Loss of local control, increased bureaucracy and higher costs are all good reasons to oppose the government’s Three Waters plans.

Thomas Cranmer has found another:

Deep within the Water Services Entities Bill is a mechanism that will have significant influence at the operating level of the structure – it is a mechanism that is only available to mana whenua. . . 

That mechanism is Te Mana o te Wai aspirations which the government has failed to explain clearly.

In truth, the Government cannot fully provide this explanation because to do so would call into question their assurances around co-governance and would highlight an inherent contradiction in the legislation. . .

Appropriately, given their controversial nature, the Te Mana o te Wai mechanism lies deep in the Water Services Entities Bill —in Subpart 3 of Part 4 of the Bill to be precise. Section 140 of the Bill simply states that “mana whenua whose rohe or takiwā includes a freshwater body in the service area of a water services entity may provide the entity with a Te Mana o te Wai statement for water services”. They can be provided by one or more iwi and can be reviewed and replaced by those iwi at any time. Once received, the board of the relevant water services entity has an obligation to engage with mana whenua and prepare a plan that sets out how it intends to give effect to that Te Mana o te Wai statement. And that is where it ends. The Bill is silent on what can (and cannot) be included in the statements and provides no guidance as to the outcomes that the statements are intended to achieve. In short, there are no limits to the scope of Te Mana o te Wai statements.

That sounds awfully like Treaty principals which are often used in spite of being difficult, if not impossible , to define.

The relevant water entity board must simply give effect to those statements “to the extent that it applies to the entity’s duties, functions, and powers”.

Their importance in the governance structure of Three Waters cannot be overstated. . . 

Moreover, the Bill sets out 6 objectives for the water services entities in section 11 and a further 7 ‘operating principles’ in section 13 – one of which is “to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai”. The principles are not set out in any order of priority and there is no mechanism for determining how to resolve any conflict that will inevitably arise between those principles. Requiring the boards of the water service entities to undertake a massive nationwide infrastructure upgrade whilst also satisfying the requirements of Te Mana o te Wai statements alongside their other statutory obligations seems to be an impossible task. However these reforms are so ideological in nature that issues of practicality cannot be allowed to dilute their potency.

Indeed Mahuta acknowledged the same in her June 2021 Cabinet paper:

“The tensions have been difficult to navigate … Notwithstanding the complexity, I consider that my reforms of the three waters system provide the opportunity for a step change in the way iwi/Maori rights and interests are recognised throughout the system.”

Few others outside Government or leadership of Maoridom have recognised the significance of the Te Mana o te Wai mechanism. One of the first to do so was the Mayor of Kaipara, Dr Jason Smith who has issued a number of warnings – all of which have been roundly ignored by the media. It’s no coincidence that Dr Smith was a member of the Government’s Independent Working Group on Representation, Governance and Accountability of the Three Waters entities because you really need to be that close to the reforms to understand the details and nuance.

Certainly, no-one can appreciate the import of Te Mana o te Wai statements by reading the Bill alone which explains why they have failed to register on the public’s radar but they may do well to heed the warning given by Quintus Rufus Curtius in his history of Alexander the Great – altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi (the deepest rivers flow with least sound).

It’s not just people who aren’t Maori who will be excluded, Maori who don’t have an iwi or are disconnected from theirs will be too.

If you don’t think this is worrying, consider this:

A 91.75% majority vote to change Playcentre Aotearoa’s constitution has been overruled by some of the organisation’s roopu (governance bodies), Playcentre insiders have revealed.

One parent, who asked not to be named, said the nationwide vote on Saturday morning was designed to change the parent-led child care education organisation’s constitution to a “trust deed” so — among other issues —  more of the funding it received would go to local playcentres, rather than “98%” going to the administrative body, which operates a bulk-funding model.

In the vote, parents and employees at 366 of 400 playcentres voted yes in favour of change.

However, before any change could come into effect, a separate vote from  the organisation’s roopu needed to be considered.

The organisation’s six roopu are “governance bodies within Playcentre Aotearoa, consisting of whanau Maori, to give whanau Maori an equitable voice in Playcentre governance”, which require at least five of the six roopu to agree in order to achieve a consensus.

Four roopu voted in favour and two against, but  the two-thirds  majority was not enough to carry the change. . . 

If two people can contravene the will of 370 others at Playcentre, what hope is there of local control over water when co-governance and Te Mana o te Wai will be imposed on us if Three Waters becomes law?

3 Responses to Three Waters gets worse

  1. With or without the monarchy NZ desperately needs a constitution, the First Article of which should be that government of the country shall be based on the founding principle of Liberal Democracy and Rule of Law, namely, one person one vote and that all votes shall be equal regardless of gender, race, colour or creed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. homepaddock says:

    We’ve got a constitution, though not a written one. Liberal democracy, rule of law and one person one vote, everyone equal are basic planks of functioning democracy.


  3. Until a constitution is “written in stone” everything is open to varying degrees of interpretation, misinterpretation or opinion which falls well short of a solid foundation for a functioning democracy


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