Ears on the Wall Syndrome: Public shared water soon to be in private shares...

17 July, 2012. 

Dr Featuna'i Liua'ana and author of Ears on the Wall syndrome

Dr Featuna’i Liua’ana

Talofa everyone.

Well, it seems my little quip last week on the cold weather we’ve been having lately has rewarded us with at least a few days of sunshine.

And I hope it brought a smile to many of you who had been inundated with much of life’s many issues and problems. Hopefully, its given many of you time to reflect on the more positive aspects of life.

But having put the bad weather behind us, I am a bit bemused with the fact that water is now the big discussion point. Yes, water! And it all started with the government’s announcement to sell part of the Crown assets, Mighty River Power, to private ownership, and the question of water rights and water ownership threatened to stall John Key’s asset sale plans.

It seems the National government is turning a blind eye on the matter of Maori rights to water, which is at present before the Waitangi Treaty Tribunal awaiting a decision. According to Mai Chen of the NZ Herald, “to sell down shares in the power companies, when Maori rights to water and geothermal resources had not been determined, would be  a breach of the Treaty.” But John Key has threatened to legislate any attempt to stall the selling of Crown assets over any dispute that arises out of water ownership. The Maori party were at first infuriated and saw the comments as a disrespectful backhand by its coalition colleague.

But, this little family dispute was put to rest on Wednesday night after a meeting between John Key and the leaders of the Maori Party, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples. Key’s comments afterwards suggested that water rights and water ownership was no longer an issue, and he was confident of pushing the Mighty River Power asset sales through. No one knows what the National Party offered the Maori Party or what Maori rights had been bargained away without Maori people’s knowledge and consent by the Maori Party, but what is clear is that many of the Iwis still await the Waitangi Treaty Tribunal’s decision on Maori rights to water and geothermal resources, and are indignant with the government’s present stance, and vow to take this issue all the way to court.

The National government think they still have a trump card though – legislation; and that is something you cannot challenge in court. But the question is, would the legislation also amount to a breach of the Waitangi Treaty? Time will tell and something tells us this fine weather we are having is not going to last long. So we keep an eye on the development of the asset sales and the affect it will have on Maori water rights.

But surely this issue is not just an issue for the National Party, Maori Party, and Maori people! The questions that the National Party has been putting in front of all New Zealanders lately must stir up a lot of us. Who owns water? Does a group of people have the right to claim rights and ownership of water? Should the Crown be the sole caretaker and decision maker on water and other precious national resources?

I think the answer is clear, and that is, no one has claim of ownership to water and other natural resources, but we, as New Zealanders, do have a right to water and other natural resources; and the distribution and allocation of water and natural resources should be the task of the Crown. But, having said that, I also believe every rights that Maoris have been stipulated under the Treaty of Waitangi, and that includes water and geothermal resources, should be upheld by the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal without any threat of legislation by any government of the day; and that right to water and natural resources granted to Maoris and to all New Zealanders should be the same right that give Maoris and all New Zealanders the opportunity to determine what happens to water and natural resources of this country, not the Crown.

The Crown’s right to allocate and distribute water must come from the people of New Zealand. And if John Key and the National Party take seriously that right bestowed upon Maoris and all New Zealanders, then they should realise that the people of New Zealand do not want to sell their water or any other natural resources to private enterprises who will then have control and do what they want without any determination from the people of New Zealand on how it should be control and managed for future generations.

John Key has said that the people of New Zealand had voted them in with their blessings on asset sales; and he was not going to negate any of the National Party’s campaign promises. True! And we do not condone politicians who lie to the people; who do not carry out their promises. So, there is some merit in John Key continuing to implement  asset sales and pursue the Crown’s right to regulate and control water. But why do I still hear  many of the folks on the ground dissatisfied with John Key’s explanation? So I ask them: Why don’t they see what John Key sees?  The response was simple, Why doesn’t John Key see what we see? Wow! This was a very deep question, and not the answer or the debate on a political issue I was expecting. But, it prompted me to splash some water on my face and try to see things a bit different from the point of view of the ordinary low income and poor citizens who follow with interest the efforts of the present government.

It is obvious to me that the National Party do not have ‘ears on the wall syndrome’ or else they would have heard many of their own faithful supporters slamming asset sales. I hear people calling for a referendum, but even that seems too hard for John Key to decipher and put into good use. Maybe, all the reasoning behind the recent attempts to change the government’s stance has been too difficult for the government to understand; perhaps a simple approach from a down-to-earth ‘ear to the wall syndrome’ sufferer, who would soon pay  high electricity bills and contribute to profits for Mighty River Power shares for the rich, could give the government some understanding on how the average New Zealander feels about these issues.

To begin with, I really believe the people of New Zealand voted into power the government that would bring New Zealand out of economic hardship; but the people of New Zealand could only vote National with asset sales attached; there was no other option. Now, for the simple person on the street, that is likened to buying a basket of fruits that contains all your favourite fruits – apples, oranges, kiwifruits, bananas, pineapples, and strawberries, but it also contains mangoes, which you are allergic to and you do not want. So you ask the owner of the basket of fruits to take the mangoes out as you do not want it, you only want the rest of the package. But the seller refuses to sell it without the mangoes. So, with no choice, you buy the basket and throw away the mangoes and enjoy the rest of the fruits offered by the seller.

This is what it was like to vote for the National Party for many people; and now all that the National Party voters want, as well as many other New Zealanders, is to keep and to enjoy the National government, with asset sales thrown out of the basket. Well, I did say  it’s a simple analogy, but if the more difficult form of persuasion has failed to persuade the National Party on this issue, then maybe a simple analogy would do the trick.  And more importantly, if the asset sales are postpone indefinitely, then the debate on water rights and water ownership will no longer be an issue of concern; things will be back to normal as far as asset sales and water right is concern and we can all live happily ever after. And while we are still on the subject of water, I hope everyone who pays water bills are well aware of the changes to water charges which started on July 1, 2012, and the monthly billing system implement by Water Care beginning in August 2012.

It will affect the way many of our poor and low income people budget and manage water, as it will be more expensive; and that’s not good news for those who are already struggling and trying to pay the mortgage, the rates, electricity, and now a rise in water consumption.

If there is any silver lining, we pray that the asset sale do not go ahead, it will, at least, keep electricity charges down as there will not be any shareholders to be satisfied with huge profits. So keep on hoping and pray for God’s righteousness to succeed, and as I have said before, do not allow problems, poverty, and health issues, put pressure on you and your family; lift yourselves up and turn all your disadvantages to positives, and seek a better lifestyle by seeking better opportunities. Do not accept your situation and become a statistic for poverty, ill health, crime, and even suicide.

Let me leave you with these words of comfort: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters…

Splash some water on your face quietly and allow yourself peace of mind; and remember, no matter how much we come into conflict with the government, we are all New Zealanders; with no barriers to colour, race, creed, gender, and religion. And as New Zealanders, we are also reminded by the Prophet Jeremiah once again: Seek the peace and prosperity of the country to which I have carried you… Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

Soifua.

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