HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

‘CNMI and Cook Islands can learn from each other
The CNMI and the Cook Islands in the South Pacific are thousands of miles apart but they have a lot in common as well as differences that they each can learn from such as further developing their tourism industry and building new ones, to maintaining and expanding their political relationships with much bigger nations.
The Cook Islands is a self-governing island nation in free association with New Zealand, which provides national defense to the islands.
Teina Bishop, the Cook Islands’ minister of tourism, education, marine resources, national human resources and pearl authority, has been on Saipan for three days to see firsthand the CNMI’s tourism, gauge areas it can learn from, and where the CNMI can improve on.
The Cook Islands’ major tourism markets are New Zealand and Australia, along with Europe, especially Germany. It welcomes over 100,000 visitors annually.
Bishop said both the CNMI and the Cook Islands have limited air seats that hamper tourism.
But unlike the CNMI, the Cook Islands has other industries besides tourism such as offshore banking and fruit exports and others that it is developing such as fishing.
It also has other industries it wants to revitalize such as black pearl farming, which it wants to bring back to a NZ$20-million annual industry from the current NZ$1-million annual business.
Bishop, who is leaving Saipan today for Guam and then to New Zealand, said that Cook Islands cannot depend on tourism alone.
The Cook Islands also receives direct financial aids from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Korea, India and China; the latter is one of its biggest donors.
“We have sitting with us now about NZ$14 million that China has given us as a gift. We don’t know how to spend [it]. They give us about NZ$2 million every year. To develop anything we want,” Bishop said in an interview yesterday morning.
There are only two conditions on how to spend the roughly US$11.5 million from China. One, Cook Islands has to get the services or workers from China to do the development work, and two the islands should buy equipment from China.
“It’s sitting; all we need is to request China,” he said.
China also built the Cook Islands a courthouse and a police station as gifts. China also gave a low-interest loan to build a sports stadium.
“Personally I feel that we should establish an office in Beijing so we can strengthen our relationship,” he said, when asked whether they’d pursue full-fledge membership in the United Nations at this time.
Bishop said once they have fully developed the fishing industry and fully revitalized the black pearl farming industry, they will embark further on airline and tourism, including talks with China Southern, which started flying to New Zealand in April last year.
The Cook Islands’ budget last year was NZ$174 million, which is roughly US$143 million for a population of close to 18,000, based on preliminary 2011 Census data.
However, there is a much larger population of Cook Islanders in New Zealand and in the 2006 census, 58,008 self-identified as being of ethnic Cook Island Maori descent.
When an international airport was built in 1974, Cook Islanders began migrating to New Zealand and other areas.
Bishop said of their NZ$174 million budget, some NZ$82 million or some US$67.4 million comes from their own revenues derived from taxes and fees; the rest, from foreign aids.
The CNMI’s fiscal year 2011 and 2012 budgets are $102 million each for a population of over 50,000.
Bishop said that Cook Islands also provides free education, free health service, and old-age pension to people at least 60 years old, which is currently some NZ$400 a month and they’re now looking at raising the monthly pension to NZ$800 for those at least 70 years old.
He said Saipan has big and beautiful hotels “but you still have white sand beaches just like us.” He reiterated that airlines are a challenge, but he said “hats off” to Tan Holdings’ plan to launch its own airline in July to target the main Asian markets.
“And of course, again, because you’re close to Asian markets. We can’t have [that], we cannot shift the [Cook] islands. You’re very lucky you’re very close to the markets,” he added.
He believes the only thing that the Cook Islands have that the CNMI doesn’t have is cultural dance that’s very unique to any other islands. Theirs has “drumming” that requires special skills that are more articulate than the dance itself.
He said the CNMI is also able to preserve the relics of its historic past.
“And what I find after visiting those sites-they’re so peaceful. That’s one thing we have in common. I wouldn’t change anything, I wouldn’t suggest anything, I think you’ve got it, all we need-the same as you-is people to come and enjoy,” he said.
Bishop said when he had dinner with Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, it felt as if he were back in his home because of the atmosphere and servings of breadfruit, banana, and barbecued fish.
The Cook Islands also has some 1,700 foreign workers mostly from Fiji and the Philippines, occupying tourism-related positions that can’t be filled by Cook Islanders such as those in management, accounting, head chefs and housekeeping. The same goes for the CNMI’s foreign workers holding jobs not filled by U.S. workers. - Haidee V. Eugenio

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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