HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 581: 14 September 2011

PM briefing on Forum outcomes

Following Cabinet on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Hon Henry Puna briefed the media on a number of issues including the outcomes from the Pacific Leaders Forum in Auckland which were relevant to the Cook Islands and the now publicly sensitive issue of Minister’s travel and the costs of that travel.
The PM apologized for the delay of almost an hour in the briefing and was accompanied by Finance Minister Hon Mark Brown and Ministry for Marine Resources Minister, Hon Teina Bishop.
Brown took up the centre position and while the PM and Brown appeared tentative and cautious, Bishop looked alert and eager for questions.
Mentioned below are some of the matters touched on by the PM and his team.
Forum outcomes relevant to the Cook Islands
Key details were provided and appear on pages 4 and 5 of this issue. The PM indicated the return on the amount spent to send the larger than normal delegation was well worth the trip. He referred to the overseas parties who attended the Forum and the higher than usual profile this Forum had attracted with major countries and organizations turning up. The UN Secretary General, EC President plus a large delegation of Americans came. China, Israel, the Palestinians, Japan, France were represented.
Civil List-travel expenditure
The PM indicated a willingness to consider disclosure of the travel cost details under the Civil List but was not keen that unaudited accounts should be disclosed for accuracy reasons. Brown supported this. The PM said the matter of a way forward would be discussed at a special Cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning. Brown indicated there was sufficient funds in the Civil List allocation to cover the costs of the China visit. The Chinese would be picking up the costs of internal travel and accommodation in China. While the amount allocated by parliament for the Civil List appears in the Budget, details of allocations for particular items such as travel, are not.
Samoa shipping link will assist northern group
A shipping service will be established between Samoa and the northern group by the Samoa Shipping Corporation. It will be a cargo ferry providing essentially a freight service. The PM said he was very excited at this development which would end problems in the north with supplies especially of key food items, fuel and water. This is the same company which provided the ferry to transport the northern teams to Te Maeva Nui celebrations. One major issue will be strengthening border controls to prevent entry of the notorious pest the Coconut Beetle from Samoa.
Assistance for low income homes and businesses to go solar
It is hoped low interest loan packages for businesses and low income homes to go solar, will soon be available. Brown said he met with the European Union Commissioner for Climate Change to discuss the matter and also the Australian based Director of the European Investment Bank about using the recent loan of $5 million Euros available to provide two lines of credit so consumers and businesses can purchase solar panels. The loans would be repaid monthly through their power bills. Brown said that firstly the higher commercial loan rate had to be negotiated down. Government would provide a guarantee similar to that government provided for the black pearl industry in regard to the NZAid funds. Brown said he would be writing to the European Investment Bank outlining Cabinet’s decision on how the funds are to be utilized. He then planned to meet and advise the Boards of the Bank of Cook Islands and Te Aponga accordingly and was hopeful the programme would start in the next six months.
China grant may be used to establish outer islands infrastructure
The establishment of a regular freight service between the northern group and Samoa meant fish could be sent to Pago. There was the possibility the Chinese grant could be used to establish supporting infrastructure such as chillers for the fish and various agricultural produce.
2012 Pacific Leaders Forum may showcase clean, green technology
The PM spoke of the possibility that the next Leaders Forum in 2012 which will be held in Rarotonga, would provide the opportunity to showcase clean, green technology. The PM said he discussed this matter with representatives from Japan, China and Israel. Israel was very advanced in solar and water technology while China was acknowledged as making the best solar panels.
Trip to China
Despite recent media comments by Infrastructure Minister Heather, the PM said there was never any doubt the China visit would go ahead. He said seven people would be going on the one week visit, departing early Friday morning. The only matter to confirm was the composition of the group however, it was confirmed that Infrastructure Minister Heather was going to discuss outer islands machinery needs, Associate Minister for Agriculture, Kiriau Turepu would be going to look into agricultural production and techniques and senior officials Foreign Affairs Secretary Dr Jim Gosselin and Acting Infrastructure Secretary Donye Numa would also be going. The PM said he met with the Chinese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs in Auckland. The final visit programme is still awaited. Marine Minister Teina Bishop had been invited but decide to opt out because he was able to conclude all his business with the Chinese in Auckland. However, he will be going to China in October for a Tourism Forum.
Frequency of Ministerial travel
Minister Bishop said that personally he did not think the travel was excessive. Ministers had collectively completed 40 overseas visits in 36 weeks. Bishop said there was a need to be mindful of the benefits of the trips. Media queried why there was no advance notice of the trips, their benefit and after the trips, few reports were made public. The PM said there was concern at the accuracy of some media reports even when the information was provided.
$500 million for education
The PM and Education Minister Teina Bishop both expressed their gratitude to Australia and New Zealand for making such a large fund available to the region for education. While the Cook Islands as a small nation could not expect a large allocation, what could be obtained would be put to good use. Bishop referred to teacher training and tertiary training as possibilities. He asked why Cook Islanders should go to NZ and Australia untrained and become benefit dependants? With training they would go as prospective employees. - Charles Pitt

Herald Issue 554 09 March
- Norm exposes Trio of Doom
- Briefs from PM’s media conference Tuesday
- Tourism Industry ponders $5 million draft strategy
- Norman George resigns from Cook Islands Party
- Letter of Resignation from CIP
- Norman selfish says Prime Minister

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