HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

News in Brief

Political Reform: Ignored by this Government
This Government led by Prime Minister Henry Puna swept into office in November in 2010 promising a number of changes, a large part involves reform of the political system. However one year and a bit into its term, the Government has been noticeably silent over anything to do with political reform. So, why and what is it waiting for?
A part answer to that question is that it is afraid of making risky decisions. Political reform measures can be daunting and can be a double edged sword because it basically calls for changes to the status quo that people are used to. We all know when someone tries to change our set ways our natural reaction is to defend ourselves and fight back. Some people say that for any Government to implement political reform it is committing political suicide. But it must be done.
One thing is certain, some changes needs to be made as a solution to stopping people from leaving our shores and for saving costs. But it must be done properly, sensitively and carefully. The Democratic Party when in Government several years ago got rid of the “overseas seat” which was a huge financial burden on our country’s finances. It also changed the term of Parliament from five to four years and did this by way of a referendum. It reduced the size of Cabinet to six members with a possibility of a seventh Cabinet Minister who can be either an elected MP or a non-MP. Those were recommended by the Political Reform Commission. Well that’s in the past and the Democratic Party can rest easy that it did something not by being forced but by being proactive.
When the Cook Islands Party was in office (the last time it was in office) in the 1990’s, it dilly-dallied so much that the New Zealand Government (in its own paternalistic way) literally forced the Government of the day to reduce an overinflated public service and completely removed the NZ Annual Budgetary Aid. It also forced the Cook Islands Government into accepting changes to its administration, financial and management rules and structure (hence the introduction of the Ministry of Finance and Management Act) to stop the rot.
The Government of today is doing exactly the same thing – dilly-dallying around, so much so, that it is in danger of being remembered as an “interim non-productive hiatus” in our country’s political history. Where are the decisions of substance? Instead what we read and hear are softly- softly decisions that the people of this country will wake up to soon and realise that wool has been pulled over their eyes. In other words they have been wooed by the Prime Minister and his team and then neglected, ignored, stood –up, left stranded while the Government feeds at the trough for four years as it rakes up lots of travel and closes its eyes to the hard decisions.
I and the Opposition are waiting for the Government to show us its proposed plan of changes to the Outer Islands Administrations. Essentially the Government wants to hand over full control to the Island Councils and get rid of the Island Secretaries – the government’s implementation man on the ground and link to the Island Councils and people. There’s nothing so far.
And, in parting, where are those people that were so vocal for political reform when the Democratic Party was in Government? Why are they silent on a matter they claimed to be important for the country? If their heads do not react within the next months, they can be sent to the box with the label “Hypocrite”. Come on kotou! -Wilkie Rasmussen, Leader of the Opposition

Seeking your views on Social Welfare
Last month in this column I shared government’s views on an independent Asian Development Bank (ADB) report on our social welfare system. I reiterated then that as a government we remained strongly committed to ensuring the most vulnerable in the community such as the very elderly would continue to receive appropriate support and assistance.
Community meetings have been held here and on our sister islands about the ADB report – this week those discussions are happening on Mitiaro.
I would like to press home that this is an ‘independent’ report and what it suggests is not set in concrete. We are not compelled to carry out what the authors have recommended. That is why our consultations with the public are so important. We want to hear your views on these proposals.
Developing policies for the elderly that includes them and values what they contribute to our society must be a priority. We have publicly said we would support an increase to old age pensioners aged 70 and above – and we stand by that.
The old age pension is paid to Cook Islanders aged 60 years and over. With more of our population aging in next 20-30 years, the government must look at ways the country can afford to responsibly maintain these payments.
To receive the pension, a Cook Islander must be resident here for at least 10 years from birth at any time in their life. A minimum of 20 years applies to non-Cook Islands residents. Cook Islanders can be absent from the country for up to six months and receive the old age pension. For overseas Cook Islanders returning here, there is a three month waiting period before they can apply for the pension. The current payment is $400 per month or $4,800 a year.
The ADB report highlighted:
• applying a means test to the age payment, such as non-eligibility for those still in paid employment, or who have a registered business or have a high income; or
• maintaining a universal payment but increasing the qualifying age to 65 years;
• tightening the residency criteria requiring that Cook Islanders reside in the Cook Islands for a minimum of 10 years (and non-Cook Island residents 20 years) from the age of 18 years rather than birth; and
• increasing the allowable absence to exceed six months when longer medical treatment is necessary.
Public feedback so far shows support for the compulsory retirement of public servants to be 60 years of age, so jobs can be available for others on the Islands. There is also support for means testing making it ineligible for those income earners on $50,000+ to apply for the pension; in general, there has been little support for increasing eligibility age from 60 to 65 years.
There is also support for changes to the Residency Criteria requiring recipients to ‘be a resident of the Cook Islands for 15 years from the age of 18-60 and to reside in the Cook Islands for at least one year prior to pension eligibility’; and for the allowable absence to drop to three months, with six months exemption for medical referrals. This also applies to spouses accompanying their partners on medical referrals.
A committee with representatives from various government agencies, the Cook Islands National Council of Women and Cook Islands National Disability Council will study and analyse the report. It will come back to Government with the robust direction and guidance we need to make affordable decisions - that having account for the report - reflect our commitment to supporting and assisting the elderly and most vulnerable in Cook Islands society.
I encourage you all to have your say and make your views known. -Prime Minister Hon. Henry Puna

NZ Youthline to receive training in Cook Islands Youth Issues
Representatives of the steering committee tasked with running the recent Youth Forum will travel to New Zealand next week to train and brief Youthline workers on issues related to young people in the Cook Islands.
Nga Teinangaro and Ngaria Stephenson will meet with Youthline workers in readiness for the launch of the 0800 helpline which will go live in the Cook Islands at the end of April.
“The 0800 line will be answered by Youthline workers in New Zealand and we want to ensure that they have sufficient knowledge and skills to assist and guide our young people through a process that is safe and user-friendly,” said steering group chairperson Vania Keening.
She said the helpline was initially timetabled to go live in late March, “but to ensure its success we decided it was necessary to work with Youthline counsellors so their assistance fits with the circumstances of young people calling from the Cook Islands.“
This includes having Cook Islands Maori speaking counsellors available if requested by young people calling from Rarotonga and the outer islands.
Youthline has been helping young New Zealanders and their families since 1970. Callers are assisted by trained and supervised professionals who listen carefully and respectfully and work with young people in a confidential and safe environment to relieve emotional distress. Youthline is an approved and audited service under S.403 of the NZ Child Youth and Family Act 1989. Youthline respects the diversity and rights of each person. All counsellors abide by a clear code of ethics and your sessions are confidential.
Vania said the steering group was working closely with Telecom Cook Islands to prepare for the launch of the helpline. “The 0800 number will be confirmed closer to launch date and will be accessible from landlines, payphones, battery charged pre and post paid mobiles including those without credit.”
A confirmed launch date and the 0800 number will be jointly announced by the steering group and Telecom later this month.

Director of Chamber of Commerce
The Chamber of Commerce executive met with Director of Reef Shipping Group, Mr Phillip McNicholl, during his recent visit to Rarotonga. During that meeting Mr McNicholl outlined his company’s planned new services to the Cook Islands on completion of the Avatiu Harbour upgrade, due to be completed in August of this year.
In short Reef Shipping has purchased and re-fitted a larger vessel, named the Southern Reef, to start servicing the Auckland-Rarotonga route from August, the expected completion date of the Avatiu Harbour upgrade. This ship is larger and faster than the current Southern Express and from August this ship will in fact trade from Auckland to Tahiti to Rarotonga and back to Auckland, in a round trip time of 18-19 days. The current Auckland to Rarotonga to Auckland service of the Southern Express has a round trip time of up to 25 days. This means that the new ship will not only provide increased capacity on each sailing, but will be able to complete 20 voyages per annum as compared with about 15 of Southern Express. The new ship will also open up Tahiti as a prospective export/import market, including in particular the possibility of cheaper fuel imports.
In addition to this service, and because the Southern Reef is too large to service Aitutaki, the Reef Express (formerly Forum Pacific) will service a new route of Auckland to Rarotonga to Aitutaki to Tonga, to Auckland once a month, which also has the potential of opening the Tongan market up to us as well.
PDL/PFL, who also hold a licence to ship to the Cook islands but do not currently have a ship servicing the route, will use Reef Shipping capacity to provide their service presumably until such time as they have found a suitable replacement vessel. Specifically, Reef has agreed to provide PDL with slots for the continuation of the joint service previously operated by PDL and PFL using Forum Pacific. The number of slots offered by Reef exceeds PDL’s own volumes, in the expectation that PFL will utilise the balance – bearing in mind that much of that joint service cargo for the Avatiu Harbour upgrade has largely come to an end as that project nears completion.
With regard to the charter of Forum Pacific, as stated above that has already been committed by Reef to a new trade. No approach was made by PDL/PFL to renew their charter, which it was well known between the parties was to expire about now. Had PFL given Reef sufficient advance notice, say several months, of its continuing need for the ship, it is likely that a renewal or extension could have been agreed. However, that did not happen, and in the meantime Reef’s own requirement for the ship removed that option.
Mr McNicholl confirmed that the Southern Express, which is partly owned by Mr Trevor Clarke & Mr Malcolm Sword, would now be heading to dry dock and would not be returning to Rarotonga. Both the Southern Reef and the Reef Express are 100% owned by Reef Shipping.
Mr McNicholl assured the Chamber executive that during the vital period before the completion of the Harbour project, which includes our peak tourism season, Reef Shipping would ensure there was sufficient capacity available to avoid any shipping delays even if that meant chartering another vessel.
The Chamber also notes that the Cook Islands Government has many tools to safeguard the interests of Cook Islands shippers, including issuing of shipping licenses, freight rate controls, and the oversight of various shipping committees. It simply isn’t possible for Ship owners to put rates up without Government approval. Moreover, anybody at any time can go to the Cook Islands Ministry of Transport if they believe they are being charged more than the rates approved by Government, who we are sure would investigate and remedy the situation, if proven to be correct.

Flower Power!
Off the back of her recent success in Australia, Kay George’s solo exhibition ‘Flower Power’ is currently showing at The Art Studio.
For this collection, George drew on childhood memories of her grandparents’ house. “I recently joined a writers group here and we were asked to do a little story about… our past or our childhood. I wrote about growing up with my grandparents, whose house, furniture and fabrics – everything – was painted by my grandfather. As a child it was like walking into a lollipop shop! So I decided to do a visual response.”
What began as a one-off piece, a table George painted that was made for her by a friend, Alistair Newbigging, just before he sadly passed away, has evolved to include an array of objects painted with George’s characteristic flair for colour.
From giant painted flowers to fabrics and even plates, George has transformed the space into a living version of the candy store of colour she so vividly remembers. The show is on for a limited time only and the last day will be this Saturday 7 April, so head to the Art Studio in Arorangi for a more personal glimpse into this artist’s creative mind.

Toku tere ki Viti
I teia epetoma i topa kua tere atu au ki Viti no te uipa’anga maata na te Pacific Islands News Association (PINA).Kua rauka tetai tika’anga noku i te anganga ki roto i te opati o te FIJITV no te maani nuti. Kua turuturu’ia teia tere noku e te taokotai’anga Secretariat of the Pacific Community e pera katoa te Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Kua akarakara at au i tetai au mea puapinga te ka riro i te akameitaki i toku turanga i roto i te tuanga o te maani nuti. E taingauru ma rua aronga angaanga i roto i te opati o te nuti karere e, e kua kite katoa atu au e kare e vaine i te tu’anga nuti tv.
Kua akanoo’ia teia kamupani FijiTV i te oire SUVA tei turuturu’ia e tetai kamupani tuketuke koia te SKY Pacific, EM TV Papua New Guinea e te Compac. E akava katoa oki te tiaki i teia kamupani taku i kite atu.Te au ngutupa taau ka aere ka inangaro’ia tetai password i te tomo ki roto e; ko te aronga angaanga ua te mou nei i te au numero muna no tomo atu ki rot i te au Opati. E aka tuke taku i kite atu i te aka aere’anga nuti ki Viti ki ta te nuti Kuki Airani.
Te rauka nei iaku i te akameitaki i te manitia maata o te CITV Jeane Matenga, PITT Media Group, aronga angaanga o te nuti Kuki Airani,e pera toku au kopu tangata e te au taeka no ta kotou tauturu i toku tere ki Viti.Akameitaki maata ki te iti tangata Viti mei tei ngao e tae uatu i tei iti no te ooa e te reo akamaroiroi ta kotou i oora mai.

Report on CIFWA activities
On the 26th of March Aunty Kath Koteka from the Cook Islands Family Welfare Association and her assistant Ake Utanga travelled to Pukapuka to conduct treatments.
“We did breast examinations, and pap smears to a majority of the woman in Pukapuka, it was a very good turn out,” said Aunty Kath.
Though most of the women turned up to be checked, Aunty Kath is disappointed that they did not get to treat the entire female population. “We will not be able to come back to Pukapuka to do this for another 3 years, so it is a little disappointing that some women refused to come in and get tested.”
Despite the disappointment, Aunty Kath says her time in Pukapuka was beautiful.
“ The island was very welcoming, we were hosted by the people and there were many people asking questions about what we do, health issue’s, STI’s and many other issues,” said Aunt Kath.
The team scheduled their working time to match the electricity shut down times. “We would start at 8am and finish at 3pm because the power would shut down at that time, then it would start up again at 5pm, when we would start working again until it shut down at 9pm.”
Aunty Kath and Ake also had group discussions with the women. “We noticed that they were quite a few adolescent teenage pregnancies around, so we decided to have little talks on prevention,” said Ake.

Herald Issue 608 21 March
- Terms of one China Policy document should be reviewed
- Pacific Media Assistance Scheme Seeks Innovation
- Successful NZ visit by PM
- Rerekura Teaurere New Climate Change Coordinator
- News Briefs

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