Lawyer course

Mayors’ lawyer challenges ‘surprise’ contract clause banning them from criticizing Three Waters

“The money we’re talking about is peanuts compared to the total value of communities’ assets in the Three Waters infrastructure,” Manawatū District Mayor Helen Worboys told Newshub.

The government begins to spend the money of the Three Waters. Nominations are open to councils this week for the first $500 million tranche of the $2 billion funding pie. This is called the “better off” package.

“This is to help local government move into other areas of funding obligations because they have been constrained by their balance sheet,” Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

The deal has Worboys – who leads a group of 32 mayors opposed to the reforms – an advocate.

“Of course the first thing we do is get legal advice on this,” she said.

Part of the deal has been criticized as a gag order. It states that councils receiving the money ‘shall not at any time do anything which might adversely affect the reputation, reputation or goodwill of the Home Affairs Department or the Government’.

Worboys has questions about this.

“Does that extend to our council no longer being able to oppose opposition to the reform model? There are those kinds of implications there.”

National Chief Christopher Luxon suggested the clause was problematic.

“If you take the money, you certainly can’t criticize the government, it looks like a gag order.”

In a statement, the Home Office told Newshub “no clause in the funding agreement…prevents or prohibits any council from publicly expressing its own views.”

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

Mahuta promises this is not a gag.

“I think you only have to look at how the debate has unfolded over the past four years to see that it’s been a very active debate.”

The mess was described to Newshub by an official as “a bit of a mess” as there was supposed to be assurance about the clause in a letter to mayors. For some reason it disappeared.

But when you tell the councils to hand over their water resources, everything has to be watertight.