The Auditor-General has come out with some very serious concerns in his submission on the Three Waters Bill. He says it way better than I can but here are a few summary points from his official submission on the bill currently before parliament that creates four Water Services Entities (WSEs):
1) “WSEs cannot be held to account by ratepayers like local authorities are, nor can they be held accountable by Parliament because they are not Crown entities. This makes direct accountability to their respective communities more important. I am concerned about whether these mechanisms will be sufficient, individually or collectively, to enable comprehensive and effective public scrutiny and accountability.”
2) “In moving responsibility for water services from local authorities to WSEs there is a significant reduction in audit scrutiny. … I consider this to be a serious diminution in accountability to the public for a critical service.”
3) “The proposed accountability arrangements risk creating a fragmented approach to the planning and delivery of water services.”
4) “There is a risk of less opportunity for communities to be effectively engaged and less able to influence planning for water services.”
5) “Overall, I am concerned that, as currently drafted in the Bill, the accountability arrangements and potential governance weaknesses, combined with the diminution in independent assurance noted earlier, could have an adverse effect on public accountability, transparency, and organisational performance.”
The Auditor General also questions overlapping roles for various parts of the governance arrangements for the new WSEs.
It is a pretty damning submission that supports a view held by many people opposed to the Three Waters reforms that the Department of Internal Affairs (the ministry working with Minister Nanaia Mahuta on the reforms) has been “captured” by the politics and is advocating for the reforms rather than its correct role of offering impartial advice and guidance to the government.
You can read the Auditor General’s sub mission on the bill here: https://oag.parliament.nz/2022/submission-water-services