Minister asked to answer queries over abolition of Vaka Councils
The effects of the abolition of the three Vaka Councils on Rarotonga by government may have far reaching effects according to former Village Councillor and MP William Heather Snr of Puaikura.
He expressed his concerns to the Herald on Tuesday.
“I’m right on the hot plate at the moment,” said Heather.
He is concerned that Puaikura Vaka which is a prime model of what can be achieved over the years through the Council system -unity of purpose, community, spirit and tradition-will be lost as individual MPs turn to acting in the political interests of their own electorates and party agenda and not the Puaikura community as a whole.
Heather believes there is a real possibility that eventually, over time, a once unified Puaikura will fragment and split three ways along political lines under the three MPs.
Heather points out that most of Puaikura’s prime services are located in Akaoa.
Legislation introduced by government through the Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon Ngamau Munokoa, will see the three the Vaka Councils on Rarotonga abolished as from 8 February 2008 when their current term expires.
Government has already signaled that the $450,000 normally budgeted for their operation will be re-allocated up among all MPs to boost their existing constituency funds.
How the application of funding will apply and the criteria, is not fully understood as yet and concerns Heather.
While last year the Minister expressed dissatisfaction with the way the Councils operated and spent their budgets, the official review conducted by an expert in local government commissioned by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, recommended that the Councils be allowed to operate for a further year to prove themselves. The review was in line with the Democratic Party’s 2006 Election Manifesto which stated the Councils would be reviewed and improved. There is no indication the Councils would be abolished.
The Councils and the general public have not seen any in depth, independent report that recommends the Councils be abolished. Does such a report exist?
Heather regards the Vaka Council as an ideal training ground for politics at the national level. Councils also provide government with support.
“The question is,” said Heather, “ how are we going to work together? Government needs the community’s support.”
Heather asks what motivated the Minister to recommend abolition of the Vaka Councils. Was it a political issue asks Heather or is the heart of the issue the proud tradition of public service on the part of the Heather family? A tradition that has since the early days, the time of the village councils under the NZ administration, united the people in Puaikura and nurtured the Vaka as a single identity, one voice, one community under one Ariki-Tinomana.
Heather’s father served on the Village Council up until 1961 when he passed away. Heather then took over and served on the Council until self government. He later became an MP. Members of his family, Teariki, David and Robert, then began their respective tenures on the Vaka Council. Teariki went on to become an MP as did Smiley.
“I’ve served my people with my heart and my sweat,” said Heather, “And I want to preserve the honour of my people.”
Heather is critical that the Minister did not front up to the wider community and explain to them in a public meeting the reasons for abolishing their Vaka Council.
“She should front up and tell the people what the new system is and how it is going to work,” said Heather, “ She should also explain how the new system is going to be good for Puaikura, how it is going to retain Puaikura’s sense of unity.”
“Don’t answer me,” said Heather, “come and answer my people.”
The Herald approached Minister Hon Ngamau Munokoa’s office for comment on the points raised by William Heather Snr.
The Minister advised that William Heather Snr has raised valid points for the continuation of the Vaka Council and without doubt he, and his family, have a distinguished record of community service that very few in our country can beat.
The short answer said the Minister as to why the present Vaka Council structure will end next week is that the councils have not been sustainable or cost effective institutions. To become so they need more money. The Minister said the difficulty is that the revenue raising options are limited at best and there has never been any support in Cabinet for increasing their budget.
Meanwhile, some constituencies have not been and are not being cleaned on a regular basis. The Minister revealed an inspection in the past month for example showed some areas, particularly some back roads, are in a bad state and some streams are completely clogged with rubbish which becomes a potential problem for nearby residents during periods of heavy rain.
The Minister said by allocating all the available money to tackle these basic cleaning tasks it is hoped that more work can be achieved. Several ways were considered to parcel the money said the Minister but it was decided the fairest way was to share it equally among the constituencies. MPs have an interest in seeing that this work is completed and so they become focal points for deciding where the cleanup priorities are.
But the Ministry of Internal Affairs will control the disbursements of money and do their best to ensure that what is spent is tied to the work that is carried out.
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