It is not overly-speculative to say that Whanganui District Council received a sum in the vicinity of $8 million from MWH, the designers of the failed wastewater treatment plant.
That payment settled the council's lawsuit against MWH for what it said was the faulty design of the plant which was commissioned in 2007 and ran into problems almost immediately. MWH has denied such claims and has admitted no liability. The plant has now been replaced at a cost to ratepayers of around $39 million.
The payment — made in March 2016 — was subject to a confidentiality clause between council and MWH, but the Chronicle has campaigned to have the sum revealed on the basis that it was public money and the wastewater plant issue was such a hot topic with the people of Whanganui.
The Chronicle took its case to the Ombudsman and we now, too, have settlement — a compromise where the sum remains confidential but certain details are disclosed.
The payment in March 2016 coincides with council acquiring $8 million for debt reduction. One can make one's own deduction.
When council began its legal action against MWH, many said it was a mistake and that the lawsuit had no merit, blaming the plant's failings for the way council staff operated it.
So $8 million looks like victory of a kind for the council. The Ombudsman ruling is, similarly, victory of a kind for the Chronicle. It is just a shame it took so long to get there after our initial request in April 2016.
The Ombudsman's office has an important job to do in helping maintain public accountability. It has historically struggled with its workload.
A new Chief Ombudsman, former distinguished judge Peter Boshier, was appointed in December 2015 and, acknowledging the problem with delays, he boosted the office's resources. There seems to still be some work to do on that score.
The fact that the Whanganui wastewater treatment plant issue has taken 19 months to resolve is — on the basis of "justice delayed is justice denied" — unsatisfactory.