Cook Islands PM Defends Rarotonga Water Project

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Puna: Allegations of substandard construction ‘baseless’

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Nov. 4, 2014) – Prime Minister Henry Puna turned off the tap on criticism against the Te Mato Vai water investment project.

The Chinese Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC) has been selected to undertake the construction and replacement of the ring mains in Rarotonga, a project estimated to cost $23.1 million [US$17.9 million] and funded through a concessional loan provided through the Chinese government.

But CINews recently reported that a former engineer who worked on the project, John Batty, said the quality of work undertaken in the on-going replacement of Rarotonga’s aged ring mains is falling below internationally accepted standards.

As a Material Quality Specialist, Mr Batty performed duties as a supervising engineer, overseeing work on the project.

Batty was employed by KEW Consult Limited –the company selected by government to manage the entire Te Mato Vai project.

During his contract with KEW, Batty was tasked with overseeing quality assurance on the pipe laying work being carried out by the CCECC – a job he says he was prevented in doing adequately as he was not allowed to directly observe the testing of pipe joints, having instead to rely on photos and graphs to assess the work.

"The main issue was that I was finding the CCECC construction practices difficult to sign off as the quality was not what should have been expected from an international engineering and construction company," Batty wrote in an email, after he was approached by CINews.

"What I found the most difficult was the inconsistency of CCECC in terms of construction standards and the disconnect between their management team and their construction teams," he said.

Taking into account those observations, he said the ring mains could have a shorter-than-expected life span, along with possible leaking at random joints due to poor welding.

But in a lengthy address in Parliament yesterday Puna said the investment would build a water supply system that will secure water for generations to come.

Lack of rain and the effects of climate change would continue to threaten the water supply, he said.

The water supply arrangement in the Cook Islands has seen "decades of neglect from both political parties".

"The pipes to carry the water will last for 50 years."

The allegations made by Batty were "baseless" and the "highest standards of quality" were being upheld to the project.

Two major aspects of the project were the need to ensure the quality of equipment used and testing the water pressure in the pipes.

These quality assurance tests were now being conducted by CCECC to the highest standard, he said.

Part of this process included testing the welding between the pipes.

Of all the welding testing only one pipe had failed the test, he said.

Puna said Batty had taken an "overly assertive role" in his short-term contract on the project and hoped speaking out would put a stop to criticism.

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