HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

News Briefs

Tax, tax, tax and more tax
Tomorrow, on Thursday the 7th of June 2012, Finance Minister Hon Mark Brown will table his 2012-2013 Appropriation Bill. I understand he will present his Financial Statement immediately after tabling the Bill and then the House will recess so that the Government will have time to explain the budget to invited members of the public at a breakfast event hosted by the Government. Of course this will also give time for the Opposition to read and analyse the budget.
However, there are some fairly clear and strong signals since this Government came into office in 2010 that it is going all out to be a populist administration. This attitude in itself is a self defeating one because one cannot stay popular if the economy is wavering, interest rates continue to stay high, cost of living is exorbitant, mortgages remain elevated and people keep on leaving the country. So in its attempts to meet a balance between the two variables, Government proceeds and continues to dig a bigger hole for itself because logic dictates that these two opposites will always be opposites and can never be united. That’s where Government is failing, for example, it wants to hand out higher benefits to pensioners (70 year olds) but government middle range workers are still getting paid pittance for many years of service. These middle workers are in fact the productive generation that keeps this country ticking.
Minister Brown and the Prime Minister Hon Henry Puna have both found themselves in “never to return” land with their approach to recovery (if that is what they have in mind). You see, both of them want to please, have the cake and eat the cream on top of it as well while reality is staring them in the face and saying, be tough and reduce Government costs.
Well, I and the Opposition anticipate that this budget will be a one where “lollies” will be dished out but such antics will not deflect from the public eye the hurt of an increased departure tax, the residency of the withholding tax, the increase in tobacco levies and several other poorly thought out revenue generating decisions. I have always maintained that taxation is not an option by the next Democratic Party because it is in effect a form of penalty on the public at large.
In the old days of Feudal Systems when Kings and Queens ruled, tax collection was their favourite source of revenue. They collected taxes to fund their grand and affluent lifestyles and hanger’s on. At certain junctions in history, the public had enough and revolted. This Government is behaving in almost the same manner – tax, tax, tax is the way out of our problems despite the hardship of workers.
This Government has demonstrated in the past ill-fated decisions in which it announced and then changed its mind because of the impracticality and severity of the consequences once they implement them. For instance, it’s decision to tax Air New Zealand for its operations here in Rarotonga. Government did a flip-flop on that one because the Opposition pointed out the futility of Government’s approach especially its impact on local workers paid by Air New Zealand on the ground level here in our country. The Opposition has its own approach but will not reveal that to the Government in case it steals our ideas.
I want all readers of this column to know that the Opposition will oppose this Appropriation Bill and I again warn members of the public to be careful of the “layerings of butter” (parai pata) from the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister with regard to this budget.-Wilkie Rasmussen, Leader of the Opposition

Meeting the Minister in Wellington
The Cook Islands High Commission hosted a gathering of Cook Islands Community Leaders and Cook Islands students of Victoria University in Wellington on 30 May 2012. Hosted by High Commissioner Tekaotiki Matapo, the gathering was an opportunity for the Community and students to meet with Minister Glassie and Secretary Faireka who were in Wellington for various meetings.
High Commissioner Matapo was encouraged by the gathering in light of the short notice provided. “Within our limited resources, the High Commission endeavours to engage with our Cook Islands Community in Wellington and New Zealand and to support them with their various initiatives,” said Matapo. “There are now over 60,000 Cook Islanders in New Zealand, many of whom maintain close ties with the homeland and who have aspirations to continue to contribute to its development. The visit of Minister Glassie provided a useful opportunity for Government to engage constructively with our Cook Islands Community in Wellington, and particularly our tertiary students whom the High Commission takes particular interest in.”
The gathering was attended by Cook Islands Community Leaders from the Wellington region including Danny Kauraka, Mii Tupangaia and Teuru Kekena as well as a number of Cook Islands students studying at Victoria University including Cook Islands Student Association (CISA) members Tekura Moeka’a, Grace Hutton and Makiroa Mitchell. “We really appreciated the invitation from the High Commissioner to attend this gathering and the opportunity to meet with Minister Glassie and engage with our Cook Islands Community Leaders in Wellington,” said Moeka’a who is President of the recently revived CISA. “CISA was once a vibrant and active organisation at Victoria University and we hope to re-create through CISA a community for our Cook Islands students to share and learn our Cook Islands culture and to foster an ongoing connection with the ipukarea”.
In addressing the students, Minister Glassie, who is also a member of the Victoria University Alumni, encouraged them to apply themselves diligently to their studies, particularly given the sacrifices made by their parents and families to enable the students to attend University. Minister Glassie also encouraged the students to consider returning to the Cook Islands on completion of their studies noting the need in the Cook Islands for graduates in the areas of law (including legialtive drafting), hospitality as well as environment and marine resources.
The Victoria University alumni boasts a long list of Cook Islanders including the late Sir Geoffrey Henry, Tere Mataio, Wilkie Rasmussen, Tingika Elikana, Myra Patai and Anne Herman-Fua.

Heat treatment test for paw paw
On Tuesday morning the heat treatment plant near the airport used to treat agricultural produce for bugs, was brought back into life for a test on paw paw for an assessment by two officers, Senior Advisor of Pacific Market Access Nacanieli Waqa and advisor Rebecca Loh from the Ministry of Primary Industries in New Zealand.
Local growers brought in supplies of paw paw for the test. The heat treatment plant gradually heats the fruit to a maximum of 47 degrees over a span of 20minutes, alternating between the varying heats over a total estimated time of 7 hours to effectively rid produce of any insects and pess harboring in them.
With other Pacific nations such as Fiji and Samoa already successfully exporting pawpaw to New Zealand using similar heat treatment systems, it was hoped that Tuesday’s trial would be successful in re-opening the agricultural trading doors between New Zealand and the Cook Islands. However an unforeseen error did indeed occur according to the Director of Bio Security from the local Ministry of Agriculture.
Detected by IT equipment, the heat treatment was brought to a momentary halt. The malfunction meant the produce there was unable to reach the necessary heat of 47 degrees, needed to kill host insects and larvae.
A further attempt was rescheduled to take place this Wednesday with results available Thursday. -Maria Tanner

Increase in Sweetened drinks import levy
This initiative is primarily a health measure aimed at increasing the cost of sweetened drinks to encourage behavioral change among Cook Islanders. Non-communicable diseases continue to be a major challenge and have been identified as the single biggest public health challenge facing the Cook Islands over the medium term. The incidence of dental caries among young children continues to be very high. Regular consumption of these soft drinks is a contributing factor to both these issues. Young people continue to con sue higher than recommended quantities of sweetened drinks. The average soft drink contains 36 grams of sugar (or 10 teaspoons) in a 355ml can, and 250ml high energy drinks contain 27 grams. Current levies on sweetened drinks will be increased by 15% from 1 August 2012 and increased by 2% per annum from 1 July 2013 to maintain the real value of the levy. MFEM calculates the impact of the increase in 2012/13 will increase the cost of the average soft drinks can by around 0.25cents.

Increase in Alcohol Import Levy

Current import levies on alcohol have not been increased in some time and have fallen in relative terms and in comparison to other countries in the region.
Import levies on alcohol vary according to the type of beverage and the level of alcohol contained within the beverage. Most alcohol levies will be increased by 15% from 1 August 2012, low alcohol beers will only be increased by 5% to encourage drinkers to drink lower alcohol beers. All alcohol levies will then be increased by 2% per annum from 1 July 2013 to maintain the real value of the levies.
MFEM calculates the impact of the increase in 2012/13 will be the following;
• Of a 750ml bottle of whiskey/rum/bourbon will increase by $1.86
• A can of beer by $0.09 cents
• Bottle of wine by $0.50 cents

Medical Scholarships to Cuba
Health Minister Nandi Glassie met with Cuban Ambassador to New Zealand, Her Excellency Maria del Carmel Herrera Caseiro to discuss possible health scholarships to Cuba for young Cook Islanders in the coming year.
The discussions follow on from the visit to the Cook Islands of Ambassador Herrera Caseiro in March this year where she presented her credentials to the Cook Islands Government.
Cuba is well known for its expertise in the health field and since the 1960’s, Cuba has sent thousands of medical personnel to serve overseas, particularly to Latin Amercia, Africa and, more recently, Oceania. From 2000, Cuba began strengthening its relations with Pacific Island Countries including providing medical aid. Cuba’s medical aid to Pacific countries has been two-pronged, consisting of sending doctors to Oceania, and in provide scholarships for Pacific students to study medicine in Cuba at Cuba’s expense. As of 2011, some 200 Pacific Island students are studying medicine in Cuba.
“Thus far, scholarships for Cook Islanders in the health area have been limited to study in Fiji, New Zealand and Australia,” said Minister Glassie. “Given the continued decline in the number of scholarships available to Cook Islands over the years, the scholarships offered by Cuba are particularly welcome and Government look forward to bringing these opportunities to fruition through Ambassador Caseiro and our High Commission Office in Wellington.”

China and the Cook Islands discuss health co-operation
Minister of Health Nandi Glassie met with Chinese Ambassador Xu Jianguao in Wellington on 30 May to discuss possible future co-operation in the health sector. Minister Glassie, who has just returned from the World Health Organisation (WHO) General Assembly in Geneva was following up earlier discussions on possible co-operation with China in the health sector.
“The Cook Islands is particularly interested in a possible exchange program for health practitioners between the Cook Islands and China,” said Minister Glassie. “Also of interest to the Cook Islands is Chinese expertise in the area of acupuncture and herbal medicine and we hope in the coming months to discuss how this might be possible with the Chinese Government.”
The Ministry of Health will host a visit by a delegation of medical practitioners from the Quangdong province to the Cook Islands later this year where it is hoped more detailed discussions can be held on a possible cooperation program between the two countries in the health sector.
In 2011, the Cook Islands hosted a cultural performance team from the Quangdong province who performed during the International segment of the Constitution Celebrations. It is envisaged a similar team will again visit this year to perform dances and songs from the Quangdong province.
Minister Glassie also discussed with the Ambassador possible co-operation in Agriculture, specifically acquisition of seeds by the Cook Islands from China. “China has extensive expertise in the area of agriculture which the Cook Islands hope to draw on in the coming months,” said Minister Glassie.

Commerce Tutorial
I had the most awesomest way of spending my public holiday. My friends and I decided to be cool and went to school. Yes, you read right and yes, we knew it was the Queen’s Birthday but we had some catching up to do on our Commerce, so all the girls (And one boy. How sad is that?) made the brave decision to sacrifice our free time just so we could do some schoolwork. Sounds boring, but honestly, it was worth waking up at seven in the morning on a public holiday.
I realised that trying to convince my mum to hand over the bike was a useless option and she made it quite clear that she was going to drop me off. I was like, so bugged, but I didn’t want to start any drama. Travelling to Tereora College all the way from Upper Tupapa was a long, cold journey and I started to question whether suffering in the cold was worth it. I arrived to school, thinking I was the only early bird…nek minnut, I see three of my friends, looking skuxx on their bikes (but honestly, I think they were showing off in front of me, just because I got dropped off)
My mum wanted to have a little chat with my Commerce teacher, the great Mr. Spooner. I did my best to dissuade her from seeing him, just in case he gets a bit too talkative about how fantastic I am and all (Pfft, yeah right) but as headstrong as she is, she went ahead and had a good ten minute talk with my teacher, which kind of scared me. Luckily enough, everything he said about me was good and I didn’t get a hiding that night. Phew.
We started a bit late due to a few technical errors, so my friends and I decided to have a little “safe” cruise back to Upper Tupapa. We were paired up perfectly with one another on the bikes and I was a passenger the whole drive. Sucky, but technically I am underage, so like the angel I am, I abided with the law. We drove back to Tereora without any mishap and started our tutorial. It felt like a ghost town, because the school was absolutely empty, but at the same time it was kinda cool. Some fun exercises and all this other stuff was put on the whiteboard for us to learn.
Morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea was provided to us (Compliments to the Bank of the Cook Islands. Thank you so much guys!) Pizza bread, scones, sandwiches, chocolates and all sorts of other delectables were served. Yummy! I wasted no time in digging in, since I was surrounded by hungry wolves. I grabbed anything within my reach, trying to get a handful at a time. People were pushing other people just to get to the food. Ruthless much. In the end, one of my mates went on a trip to the shop to buy condensed milk and biscuits for a light snack. A perfect way to end the day. -Norma Ngatamariki

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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