Next steps for Three Waters?
Next steps for Three Waters?
Wednesday 9 March, 2022
With the Water Services Entities Bill (the Bill) still expected to be introduced mid-way through this year, the Working Group on Representation, Governance & Accountability (the Working Group) has just completed its discussions with interested parties and released its recommendations. You can find its report here Working Group Recommendations.
The Working Group, which consists of local government and iwi leaders with an independent Chair, has made a series of recommendations that it considers would improve the governance arrangements originally proposed for the four Water Services Entities (WSEs). It addresses a variety of criticisms about these arrangements but does not and was never intended to consider the merits of the overall three waters reform package.
The Working Group welcomes the inclusion of Te Mana o te Wai, the principles of which are embodied in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater, which it acknowledges as central to guide decision-making, planning, governance, accountability, and service delivery. Te Mana o te Wai is a concept that refers to the fundamental importance of water and of its protection to the health and wellbeing of the wider environment and communities. It is about restoring and preserving the balance between the water, the wider environment, and people. For more information about Te Mana o te Wai see Te Mana o te Wai MfE factsheet.
The recommendations include changes to the proposed Bill to ensure community ownership of water services assets and protection from privatisation, stronger community input into network development, strengthening Te Mana o te Wai, and co-governance embracing Te Ao Maori to improve service delivery and environmental protection.
One specific recommendation addresses the issue of ownership of the WSEs and proposes a public shareholding structure that protects community ownership with councils owning shares, and as shareholders having the right to vote on any proposal that the WSE be sold or privatised. Shares would be proportionately issued with one share for each 50,000 people, rounded up. Councils would have to consult their communities before voting on any privatisation proposal, and it could not proceed without the agreement of every council shareholder.
Other recommendations address strengthened co-governance of the Regional Representative Group (RRG) and the accountability of the WSEs to the RRG, including approval of the strategic direction outlined in the WSE Statement of Intent. The controversial issue of the inclusion of stormwater into the WSEs is discussed and the inherent difficulties noted. However, it was accepted that the inclusion of stormwater is necessary to fully give effect to Te Mana o te Wai and for the co-governance opportunity to be fully realised and meaningful.
Interestingly, despite being represented on the Working Group by Mayor Phil Goff, Auckland Council does not consider the recommendations go far enough in the area of governance and accountability. Mayor Goff’s minority report appears as an Appendix to the Working Group recommendations.