I use the word “clean” because it is a word the Minister has slipped into his lexicon when discussing the quality we can expect from the water which his quaint 5th order Te Mato Vai project is going to be delivering. I have written two previous letters (January 13, 2018 and April 9, 2018) endeavouring to get a definitive statement and none has been forthcoming, just confusion.
What started out as this wondrous $60 million project to deliver “potable” water has rapidly spiralled to $90 million and rising, and one of the main selling points as far as Rarotonga's consumers were concerned was that finally, apart from those with the most stalwart constitutions, they could drink from the tap without an explosive encounter in the bathroom.
“Potable” has diminished in definition to “clean”. “Clean” denotes removal of sediment, leaves, mud and the like. It does not connote the removal of the e coli and coliform and the other nasties that can cause stomach upsets. The minister, I believe, knows this - hence the shift. The word “safe” has also been used by this same minister, but I would suggest that unless it is actually safe there could be legal consequences for promoting that fiction. Imagine a mother taking the minister's “safe” at face value and mixing baby's formula with water loaded with e coli.
But the question is did the minister not communicate these significant distinctions to his Financial Secretary, because in CINews on October 27, wherein the stage one quality concerns were finally admitted under the heading, “Reports back TMV quality concerns”, the Financial Secretary acknowledged that “potable” water was what the project was intended to deliver.
So is this a case of the minister saying one thing and his Financial Secretary saying another? A disconnect at this level is a worry because it would appear to be sending mixed messages from the very top. Is it deliberate misinformation of is it a case of one hand not really knowing what the other is doing? Or is it calculated deception?
Then we read in CINews this week an advertisement from To Tatou Vai (a new Crown entity to manage water in Rarotonga) for water treatment and water network technicians. Six people are required to manage the day-to-day quality of water being supplied to the network. But what exactly does that entail if “potable” is off the radar? Or is it, in fact?
There are allegedly going to be 12 intakes feeding into the network. If all the water flowing through the network is going to be “potable”, does this mean treatment at each intake, or is there a plan to intercept all the water at one treatment station?
If the former, extremely sophisticated coordinated monitoring systems would, I expect, be required to detect any breakdown - because otherwise if just one intake’s treatment failed, the whole network becomes contaminated. If the latter, even assuming it is feasible, then everything is contaminated at source. Is it the demanding discipline of this reality, and the cost, which has some officials wanting to distance themselves from the original promise and undertaking - but what then of the others?
Perhaps between them, the Finance minister and the Financial Secretary can actually agree on what we can expect and actually come clean so the public knows whether the water delivered by Te Mato Vai will be “potable” or not and “safe” to drink.
And if it is indeed going to be potable does the $90 million cover that and if not, what will bringing it to potable standard add to the cost?
John M Scott
Editor’s note: In a recent letter to the editor published in CINews on Saturday November 10, John Scott made the assumption that an earlier letter, signed “MBA”, may have been written by Finance minister Mark Brown. It was not.