Over the last few weeks we have witnessed Mark Brown and Garth Henderson perform a slow striptease, releasing damaging information concerning the state of the Te Mato Vai project, but assuring the public there is nothing to see here.
“Trust us, we know what we are doing,” they seem to be saying.
However, it is clear that this project has gone completely off the rails and is likely to be the biggest financial disaster since the Sheraton Hotel debacle.
First, let’s look at standard of the work. On October 27, CINews ran a story headlined, “Report Backs TMV quality concerns”.
The article revealed that Opus, a New Zealand infrastructure consultancy had confirmed “non-compliance of materials as well as workmanship”.
The government has been in denial regarding quality and workmanship issues since 2014. They were warned at that time by John Batty who was a supervising engineer on the project, of quality assurance issues.
This was reported in the CI News on October 29, 2014 under the headline, “Ring mains not up to international standards: former TMV project engineer.”
Batty stated: “The main issue was that I was finding the CCECC construction practices difficult to sign off as the quality was not what should have been expected from an international engineering and construction company".
He further stated that he was not allowed to directly observe the testing of pipe joints. On October 30, 2015, another article appeared in the CI News headlined, "Govt lower standards for Te Mato Vai”.
The government’s formal response was made by prime minister Henry Puna in parliament shortly thereafter. It’s a beaut - and boy does he have egg on his face now.
He insisted the allegations made by Batty were “baseless” and the “highest standards of quality” were being maintained. How he must be ruing his misleading and foolish statement now. Does he now accept that he was wrong to impugn whistle-blower Batty’s integrity and that Batty was right all along?
Secondly, let’s consider the massive cost blowout. We are now told after all these years that, “actually, although we told you previously that the total cost of the project would be $60 million, it was never a $60 million project!
Actually it’s going to cost $90 million!
I call bull*** on this. In my view, it’s just an attempt to re-write history. Henderson gives various reasons for the cost blowouts including land owner issues. To me, the real reason is gross project mismanagement and incompetence on an industrial scale.
We are told that one of the reasons was landowner issues. Well, why were these not sorted out before the project began?
Recently in New Zealand, Fletcher Construction suffered enormous losses as a result of cost huge cost overruns on a number of large projects. The result there was that the chief executive was fired and board members, including the chairman accepted responsibility and resigned. Of course this being the Cook Islands, there’s no hope of that here. Someone else is always to blame. What we have heard from Mark and Garth over the last few weeks is a cover-up of the first degree.
Finally, in CINews, we are told by Garth Henderson is that the project is "still affordable". But, here's the kicker.: “Diverting finance to meet the extra cost associated with Te Mato Vai would mean the government might not be able to spend on other priorities.”
My question to Henderson and Mark Brown is, what other priorities will not now proceed because of the cost blow out? Schools? Health? Roads?
I think it is time the the Public Expenditure Review Committee urgently investigated this looming debacle.
This makes Toagate look like chump change.
Thomas the Tikioki Tank Engine
(Name and address supplied)