HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

Unfinished business in Aitutaki over Cyclone Pat

Two years down the track from Cyclone Pat which devastated Aitutaki, a significant number of residents are not happy with how the recovery action was handled.
The New Zealand government is to be thanked for their aid which enabled some new homes to be built. However, the limited funds provided only enabled a 42 square metre “shell” home to be erected, leaving residents to borrow from the banks for further materials and assistance to complete the homes. The characterless concrete block homes which look the same, seem out of place in our major tourism attraction and remind one of the look-a-like homes in Otara. This standardization meant that families of up to five were allocated these small homes.
The Herald understands that the Chinese made a very generous offer of assistance, over $5 million, however there has been no full public explanation as to why the Chinese offer was declined by the previous Demo government. (The Herald understands the Chinese offered to rebuild badly damaged homes up to a value of $75,000 with a choice of three designs up to 140 square metres and with home appliances included).
The limited funds for repairs meant that a policy had to be developed to decide how best and fairly the funds should be allocated. Responsibility for matching policy with practical assistance, rested with the Mayor at the time and the Island Council. According to Aitutaki MP Teina Bishop, the Mayor insisted that the three Aitutaki MPs not become involved. The policy was changed three times and this complicated matters. What has angered some people is that the allocation of new homes was inconsistent, for example, some people renting houses were given new homes but their rental house which was damaged was not replaced.
While many in Aitutaki are thankful for the aid received which did much to alleviate the stress, there are many not happy at being omitted from the list of those entitled to assistance, at the substandard building repair work, at the substandard electrical wiring and at the ongoing failure of someone in authority to address their concerns.
The Herald does not intend to mount a “witch-hunt” or any criticism of the recovery policy which changed three times, as some of the personnel and key people involved have either passed on or left government, also there has been a change of government, government officials (the former MOIP Secretary is now an MP) and Council in Aitutaki (has a new Mayor).
In order to ascertain the latest government position, a number of questions were referred to the Acting Secretary of Infrastructure and Planning on 29 May. To date there has been no reply. Those questions were;
1. Can you please explain as to why the surplus materials from the rebuilding project were sold (by the recovery committee) despite most of the homes not being completed?
2. We understand that the Ministry is aware of the concerns about the shoddy work carried out by the electricians and builders (incomplete homes)are you able explain, why after 2 years since the recovery project the Ministry has not replied to any of these concerns?
3. There have been some allegations of bias when the new homes were allocated. Can you explain why a Category 3 home had it roof repaired, while another family whose home was in the same category were given a brand new home altogether, and why, a family was given 2 homes where it was clearly visible that this family didn’t need it?
4. Can you explain as to why tradesman from Rarotonga have not returned to Aitutaki to complete the unfinished work, despite people in Aitutaki were promised they would return and complete it?
5. What role does the Aitutaki Island Council play in terms of decision making in Aitutaki?
6. Does MOIP still have a list of the homes in each category, that were damaged but where repairs were not made along with the reasons (if these homes did not meet the policy, is there any record how the policy was not met).
7. It seems the final decision as to which homes were repaired, rested with the former Mayor. Has there been any follow up to ensure his decisions were correct and within the policy set?
8. There is photographic evidence of buildings which were not constructed to standard (substandard electrical wiring and one recently built building had no reinforcing in the concrete walls)-has government followed these cases up to find out why?
9. How much funding remains unused?
10. What is planned for any unused funds?
What the Herald recommends is that government take a “fresh” look with a “clear” mind, at people’s concerns to ascertain whether;
1. They should have been entitled to some assistance
2. The building repair work carried out meets with building standards
3. The electrical work carried out meets the electrical wiring standards
4. That the funds spent on individual properties were properly recorded and the work properly receipted and documented
5. That those who donated funds can be assured by way of records or documents where the funds went, who got how much and what did they get.
Government needs to look into those cases where persons were omitted from the lists of those entitled under the policy, to assistance, to determine;
1. If that omission was unfair, erroneous or improper
2. If any case omitted correctly, in line with policy, could be re-considered on “humanitarian” grounds-for example if those affected are elderly, invalids, have young children or are financially unable to afford repairs.
The Herald understands that the Tokoroa Cook Islands Community are very concerned that no-one in authority can confirm just how the $58,000 they donated, was used. Their funds were handed directly to former Mayor Tai Herman.
The Herald is also concerned that no-one in authority carried out checks on all the building repair work and all electrical wiring work to ensure standards were complied with.
If the Aitutaki Council cannot affect any action then that responsibility falls to central government.
Government will be aware that when the Pacific Leaders travel to Aitutaki for their retreat, over 100 media personnel from around the region will be accompanying them. These media personnel are bound to take a good look around Aitutaki and talk to people.
-Charles Pitt

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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