Final defects programme to ‘complete’ US$56m Raratonga project

The final defects programme for the Rarotonga water project should be completed in December, bringing an end to the “nearly” $90 million (US$56 million) project.

Financial secretary Garth Henderson told Cook Islands News that the Te Mato Vai water supply project, which initially had a budget of $59 million (US$37 million), plus or minus 50 percent, had costed $89.05 million (US$55.4 million). 

“This amount basically covers Stage 1 Ring main replacement and Stage 2 intakes and project administration,” Henderson said.

“The final defects period with McConnell Dowell contractor for Stage 2, is finishing in December 2022 and there is about $193,000 (US$120,023) of payments left to be processed by the end of December.”

To carry out the project, the governments of the Cook Islands, New Zealand, and China formed a “tripartite agreement” to fund and deliver the project. It was said to be the first time China had engaged in such an arrangement.

“We are still below the $90m forecasted spend,” Henderson said.

“As a matter of process, a Project Completion Report will be completed for release early next year. I expect we will be in a better position to make more information available.”

The Cook Islands Government threatened legal action against the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) – one of the project’s main contractors – alleging shoddy workmanship in replacing the ring mains as part of Rarotonga’s aged water network infrastructure about nine years ago.

The government asked the Chinese company to replace about 17 kilometres of the pipeline they laid around the island after a 2018 report by New Zealand consultancy Opus – now known as WSP – looked at claims of poor workmanship and raised questions over the materials used by CCECC.

An $11.2 million (US$7 million) contract for the remedial work – funded with grant money from the New Zealand government – was eventually awarded to local company Landholdings Ltd.

That work was completed in early 2020.

However, it appears the matter has been resolved, with Prime Minister Mark Brown saying the legal matters had been concluded at a joint press conference with New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta back in October.

At the time, PM Brown called the project a “milestone in our country’s history”. Cook Islands News has been chasing Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) for why and how the legal matter was resolved, but so far has not received a response on this.