from the Taxpayers’ Union

From the “I can’t believe they’d sink so low” file, Nanaia Mahuta and her Three Waters officials at the Department of Internal Affairs have been caught out badly.

Last year, at the Local Government New Zealand conference, the Prime Minister announced a $2.5 billion fund to bribe incentivise councils to jump on board the Government’s Three Waters agenda. Last week, applications opened for the first $500 million.

At the time, we called it out as a slush fund. The councils are being offered the money to spend even on projects that have nothing to do with water infrastructure.

But now we learn there’s a catch. Buried in the funding agreement is a sneaky clause preventing the councils who take the money to improve their infrastructure from criticising the Government!

Newshub reports:

A part of the deal has been slammed as a gag order. It states that councils who get the cash “must not at any time do anything which could have an adverse effect on the reputation, good standing or goodwill of the Department of Internal Affairs or the Government”.

Along with your humble Taxpayers’ Union, the vast majority of mayors and councillors are campaigning against Three Waters. To put elected officials in a position where they must choose whether or not to take money to improve services for their local community, or to fight for affordable, transparent, and accountable/democratic management of the water assets built by generations of ratepayers, is disgraceful.

As an unnamed opposition MP put it, “this is only one step away from forcing councillors to praise our glorious leader at each meeting”. Indeed.

The Newshub piece goes on:

In a statement, the Department of Internal Affairs told Newshub “no clause in the Funding Agreement… prevents or prohibits any council from publicly expressing its own views”.

It adds: “It is a common and prudent clause in public funding documents as a safeguard to protect against the misuse of public funds.”

Mahuta is promising this is no gag order.

This is the real concern though. It’s all very well for politicians to stretch the truth, but as public servants, DIA officials must conduct their duties in a fair, impartial, responsible, and trustworthy way.

Here are the words of the clause again plain and simple:

[Councils] must not at any time do anything which could have an adverse effect on the reputation, good standing or goodwill of the Department of Internal Affairs or the Government

The claim that this isn’t a gag clause is a simple lie. We also find the statement from the DIA’s spokesperson that such a clause is “common” and somehow protects against misuse of funds very difficult to believe.

Your humble Taxpayers’ Union has filed an information request to unmask the names of the officials who approved the statement and what other government contracts contain this (apparently) “common” provision.

Instead of bribing councillors and mayors not to speak out against Three Waters, we say the Government should listen to them and their communities and Stop Three Waters. To support the Stop Three Waters effort click here.