3 Dec 2018

Opposition raises questions over Cook Islands water project

1:41 pm on 3 December 2018

Mounting costs to a major water project and the prospect of expensive, legal action against a major Chinese company has prompted the Cook Islands Opposition to warn that the taxpayers could end up facing consequences for years.

Terepai Maoate Junior

Terepai Maoate Photo: RNZ Pacific / Flo Syme Buchanan

The Cook Islands government last month admitted the costs for Te Mato Vai had risen to $NZ90 million, a blowout on previous estimates of $NZ60m for the project.

The Democratic Party Opposition leader Terepai Maoate said there had been a lack of transparency surrounding Te Mato Vai from the outset.

Mr Maoate said the Te Mato Vai project was doomed to have serious flaws, because government ministers refused to listen to expert advice.

Mr Maoate said the government's arrogance in refusing to admit mistakes and trying to cover up those mistakes saw inferior materials used in the project which he said could now lump the taxpayer with a long-term financial burden.

He said since 2014, there had been warnings over dealing with the large Chinese contractors and the materials used in the project.

Mr Maoate claimed ignoring those calls for caution meant the government is now paying an extra $US20 million on Te Mato Vai.

The government is now reportedly preparing to launch legal action against the contractors. Mr Maoate said this was like a mouse trying to take on a dragon in the ring.

Finance Minister Mark Brown told RNZ Pacific last month the costs had increased because initial estimates were made 5 years ago and the project had faced delays since then.

New Zealand, which has contributed $NZ15 million towards Te Mato Vai, has said it will contribute more to help meet the extra costs, Mr Brown added.

"We're very happy that one of the biggest infrastructure projects that was undertaken in the last 50 years will be able to provide good, clean, consistent water supplies to the people of Rarotonga."

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