Te Rarawa has responded to criticism from Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones (Cash — and a message for iwi, February 20), saying it had approached the Far North District Council at least twice over the last five or six years in an effort to establish a new water source for Kaitaia, and had been rejected.

"The council has declined to join us on that, and instead established an alternative infrastructure involving private enterprise," iwi chairman Haami Piripi said.

"In situations like today, the user pays the price of this non-inclusion. We were willing investors, but council has not seen us as a suitable partner. We're at the point now that the council has to admit they are failing to come up with the infrastructure response it requires."

Mr Jones had accused the leadership of some iwi, including Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi, of pursuing the issue of ownership of water at the expense of their communities, including their own people.

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Mr Piripi said the issue of establishing a new water source for Kaitaia had been going on for years, however.

"It's not a new problem. We are still limping along, trying to get water, when we should have planned ahead for it," he said.

Mr Jones said that under the leadership of former mayor Wayne Brown (2007-13) the council had "at least been making headway."

"Wayne Brown and his council had a solution," he said.

"Then allegations made to the Serious Fraud Office about the conduct of that council seemed to suck up so much energy that solving the actual problem went off the agenda.

"What's happened in a lot of our councils is that inertia has become the basic operational style. We've created a culture in New Zealand in local government that we immediately identify the reasons and obstacles (why) we should not do anything. That was never part of the culture that built our country."

The council embarked upon a multimillion-dollar project to take water from the Sweetwater aquifer in 2013 after reaching an agreement in principle with land owner Tony Hayward to buy a 4ha site as a bore field. It spent $2.6 million on aquifer tests, engineering studies, legal fees, the resource consent, granted in 2012, and easements before the project collapsed in 2014.

That coincided with a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the project's finances, initiated by Mr Brown's successor, John Carter.

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The investigation found some elected members and employees had failed to comply with internal processes, although there was insufficient evidence to lay criminal charges.

Mr Brown said last week that the Sweetwater project, which was now being revived in response to the increasingly dire water shortage, had been "all signed up and ready to go" before his second term ended.

"We had it ready — all they had to do was put it in place. [Kaitaia] needn't be in this situation," he said.

"They're doing the right thing, but that was exactly the right thing seven or eight years ago."

No public explanation has ever been given for the fact that the project did not proceed in 2014.