The Covid vaccination rollout has finally gathered momentum now that central government has relinquished total control and called on many small local organisations public, private and iwi-led, to actually administer the injections.
This model of central government doing the big things like procuring the vaccines and setting the standards coupled with local community groups servicing the public works well, but is precisely the opposite of what is proposed for the Three Waters reform.
We've all seen the puerile TV cartoon ads asking if we want clean water (who doesn't) and then showing two maps, one with lots of coloured areas showing who is in charge now and the next with four larger areas which will miraculously solve all water problems without any explanation of how.
If big is really better why not go the whole hog and just have one area so all water issues will be fixed by a building full of drones in Wellington along with a call centre in India? That's bound to be better.
Oddly these four new areas are about the same size as Scotland, the bizarre choice of a role model for water service delivery. Scotland is as far way as possible, has no droughts, no horticulture or crops that need irrigation, has rock geology so little erosion and few, if any coastal wetlands, simpler catchments than NZ and an economy propped up by deep
offshore oil, an industry that our government loathes. They would have learned more from Madagascar.
Just to check my bona fides, I'm an engineer with years of experience designing, installing and sometimes owning water supply and irrigation networks, sewerage systems, roads and stormwater drains and power supply grids and I've done this in our biggest city and in our most rural area being the Far North. I have weathered two local government reforms, one in 1989 that cut 700 local authorities to 86 yet strangely left eight of them in Auckland city, and the next one on 2010 that managed to muck up the amalgamation of those past eight.
As well as that I have had to fix some of the mess left by the disastrous electricity reforms of the 1990s which managed to produce about 20 monopolies called lines companies along with rising costs and falling reliability.
All these reforms were politically driven and implemented by Wellington bureaucrats who never visited the rest of NZ to see if any of it helped, (it mostly didn't).
Citizens choose to either live in large cities or small rural towns, and local government originally followed this so rural towns like Kaitaia and Kaikohe had a very local council run by the borough engineer who had detailed knowledge of the three water networks that he or she was responsible for, plus both council and residents knew each other and who to call if there was a problem.
Local Māori had much more say then in such towns where Māori are the majority.
Then the first reforms created big councils like the Far North covering about 40 towns and centralising control of the three waters which of course distanced the public from those in charge who now included a dreadful layer of asset managers along with increased cost and frustration.
In most cities larger organisations ran their three waters reasonably effectively, except in Auckland where the failure to amalgamate the eight small councils resulted in that same dreadful asset manager layer to sort out the different councils. Again, costs up and standards down.
Now we are contemplating making this worse with yet another layer of managers between the customers and those in charge. There will be a plethora of overpaid bureaucrats managing outsourced contractors (who will be the big winners) with no interaction with the public who pay the bills and then an inquiry into why costs have gone up and service down.
Sadly, mayoral criticism of the proposal has centred on asset values rather than the much more important point of costs and service delivery standards.
Government, please rethink this and learn from the Covid delivery. One central organisation setting and monitoring standards but instead of less service delivery organisations can we have more to suit each town or catchment needs. Big ones like Watercare for Auckland city and small ones elsewhere, like the very efficient privately owned water supply companies in some small towns like Mangonui.
• Mangonui-based developer Wayne Brown is a former Far North mayor and was leader of the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group.