The Waikato Regional Council is planning to outsource the monitoring of the waters in and around Lake Taupo and its tributaries to the Tūwharetoa Maori Trust Board. This is despite the Council having identified the risk that it may be expected to undertake similar agreements with other iwi authorities or local authorities that may result in not being able to deliver on expectations due to competing priorities.
According to the Council, the proposal is a means of providing greater involvement for iwi authorities over the region’s natural resources. It is to be done under section 33 of the RMA - which allows the council to transfer it’s “functions, powers or duties” to another public authority.
“The proposed transfer will create a more efficient and streamlined delivery of some of our monitoring functions with an iwi partner.” [‘Statement of Proposal’ p.6)]
This important environmental work is absolutely a core function of a regional council, yet we are seeing a democratically elected council looking to transfer what they call an ‘essential and vital tool’ to an unelected body.
‘Report to Council’ 13 September 2019 states:
“a key driver for section 33 of the RMA is creating efficient and effective service delivery, therefore it is at council’s discretion to determine which opportunities would create these efficiencies and cost savings and enable a more effective service delivery for our community”. (p.112 The Waikato Regional Council Open Agenda package).
Democracy Action believe that if the Tūwharetoa Maori Trust Board is to be tasked with providing better efficiencies and a more effective service delivery, this should be as a contracted service provider, a proposal the Council should put out to tender.
However, an examination of the proposal gives no confidence the delivery of an efficient and effective service will be the case. The Waikato Regional Council will be providing financial and technical assistance to build capacity within the Trust Board, surely an admittance that the Board does not have the expertise to undertake the function.
“If all of this work is transferred to the Trust Board, year one would see an increase in costs to Council, as staff would need to provide training and orientation of the sites. In the following years there would be cost savings and these savings would be used to offset the additional cost of quality assurance checks needed to be done on water samples prior to importing the data into our Council database, auditing of sample data to ensure compatibility, as well as providing ongoing support to Trust Board staff”. [‘Statement of Proposal’ (p.10)]
The Council did consider a contract for services; but decided that “a transfer of functions supports the Trust Board’s fiduciary duty and relationship with Taupō Waters in a way that holds greater significance than a contract, for both TMTB and council”. [Statement of Proposal (p.6)]
The proposal to transfer functions, (in this case the monitoring of water quality), to an iwi authority is setting a precedent - not only within the Waikato Regional Council itself, but also in relation to all local bodies in New Zealand. No doubt many other iwi around the country will be keen to follow suit. Indeed, Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board chair John Bishara hopes a transfer of authority over will be taken up more widely – “it's a platform for others to progress their journey," he claims.
We need to tell the Waikato Regional Council that council functions should stay with the council, and not look to farm them out in the name of partnership. If the Council believes outsourcing water quality monitoring is a better option, it has an obligation to the community to follow a best practice procurement policy by conducting a fully transparent tender process. It should not gift this contract without contest to a favoured entity.
The proposal is open for consultation until on Wednesday 8 July 2020. To read the proposal and make a submission, visit waikatoregion.govt.nz/have-your-say.
For further information on the proposal see pages 66 – 114 of the Waikato Regional Council Open Agenda package.
Media coverage is available from:
Waatea News: Taupō water monitoring deal points way to future.