HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

Cook Islands Herald Exclusive > Aitutaki home owners stonewalled

One Aitutaki man’s lone crusade to persuade government to repair the homes damaged by Cyclone Pat two years ago and which remain in a damaged state to this day, takes a new twist with the publication of his three letters to government concerning the damage.
Eric Ponia has decided to make his three letters to officials public after being persuaded to do so by one MP, members of the public, some government officials and those on Aitutaki whose homes are still in a damaged state.
Eric’s three letters were to;
1. Secretary to the Minister of Finance-on 21 May 2010 with copies to the three Aitutaki MPs- Jnr Maoate, Teina Bishop and Kete Ioane.
2. The Cabinet Chairman-on 24 October 2011.
3. The Minister of Finance Mark Brown on 10 March 2012.
The third letter drew the Minister’s attention to a list of home owners who had attended a meeting at the Ureia Hall in Aitutaki on 20 February 2012. 34 people are listed.
A few weeks ago the Headmaster of a school on Aitutaki appeared on CITV and revealed that some teachers whose homes had still not been repaired, were under stress and that this stress was affecting their students to the extent that their school work was suffering.

Letter 1
2 I May 2010
Vaine Teokotai
Secretary to Minister of Finance
Dear Vaine
re: Cyclone Pat damaged house in Amuri, Aitutaki
house owner , Eric Ponia , rebuilding category 4
This is a written follow up to my discussions with you for confirmation regarding my eligibility and entitlement to the NZ Aid funding for Category 4 rebuilding of my damaged house by Cyclone Pat in Amuri. Aitutaki earlier this year.
The initial assessment was undertaken by Red Cross and MOIP staff, firstly by Joseph Akaruru and his workmate and some days later by Patrick Arioka and workmate from Rarotonga who visited me while I was dismantling my damaged house. They said my entitlement for rebuilding was in Category 4. Even one of the three men from NZ Building Assessors indicated my eligibility for the Cyclone Pat Aid Funding.
Furthermore, I had a $500 loan from ANZ Bank in order to be able to pay for my return airfares from Rarotonga to Aitutaki including food while there.
I spent four weeks Monday to Saturday, 8 or 9am to 7 or 9pm dismantling the house on My own. The only assistance I received was from MP Teina Bishop with his forklift moving fallen walls. Now I wish to outline indicators or supporting criteria confirming my eligibility and entitlement to the Category 4 rebuilding requirements and funding:
l. Foremost, I am convinced of my eligibility and entitlement to the Category 4 rebuilding requirements and funding:
2. I’m an Aitutakian born and bred Cook Islander who lived in Aitutaki and Rarotonga most years of my life. My absence from the Cook Islands was for my further education- Mana College, Porirua: Wellington Teachers College; Newtown Contributing Primary School 1960-65; Massey University, Palmerston North 1970-74.
3. My house that was damaged by Cvclone Pat was originally my family home in Ureia where I grew up with my parents and siblings. I transferred the house from Ureia to Amuri in 2000. I spent 3 to 4 times a year for 2 to 3 weeks from 200I to 2008 adding two verandahs (front and back) costing me bank loans of about $20,000 to $30,000 and of my own cash. Thereafter, I continued commuting between Rarotonga and Aitutaki living in the house and holding family land meetings and my own children’s land lease meetings at the house as I am the head of our families in Aitutaki.
4. Family members and close friends looked after my house. Also other people wanted to rent the house but couldn’t allow it as the EP Staff didn’t complete the attachment of the permanent meter board to inside the house since 2008 due to the lack of availability of underground power cables etc’
5. I have an outboard motor boat costing over $10,000 landed in Aitutaki in 2001 for participation in fishing and tourism ventures being managed by a family member.I also have a family member living in NZ soon to move back to Aitutaki to manage the venture –tours to Motu Rapota where our Families have a section.
6. My life now is devoted to living between Rarotonga and Aitutaki whenever required and whatever I do. Also my children and family members can stay at the house. I am a public service retiree since 2000 with limited finance. I am a casual planter and fisherman. Therefore l must have my house rebuilt. As soon as it is possible, I’m going to Aitutaki sometime in 2 weeks to prepare my house to be ready for rebuilding.
lf l am deprived of the entitlement to the pledge by the New Zealand Government for the Cyclone Pat Category 4 Building and Funding, I’ll have no choice but to refer the matter to higher authorities or the Ombudsman and NZ Representative Office here in Rarotonga.
In conclusion, I wish to send a copy of this letter to the members of Parliament of Aitutaki as advised by MP Teina Bishop.
Kindly awaiting your response.
Yours Truly,
Eric Ponia
Cc. MP Junior Maoate - Amuri,MP Teina Bishop - Arenikau, MP Kete Ioane - Vaivaitau

Letter 2
The Chairman
Government Cabinet
Avarua, Rarotonga
Cook lslands
24 October 2011
Dear Sir,
Re: Response to “Cyclone Pat recovery officially over”-Cook lslands News article Friday 21 October 2011.
I am writing on behalf of myself and 70 plus house owners in Aitutaki, Rarotonga and overseas, deprived of the entitlement to the ‘Cyclone Pat aid funding’ granted by the NZ Aid Group for the rebuilding of the damages by the cyclone pat to our houses, I read the news late Saturday 22nd, 2011. Consultations were ongoing between myself and some of the senior officials of the main government ministries officials responsible for the recovery project since the cyclone, up to today. The responses were rather biased and conflicting from the then ruling Democratic Party officials, to the present Cook lslands Party government. Presently I cannot give a twenty month report regarding my casual and official discussions with people in Aitutaki and Rarotonga.
However I hereby present just some of the relevant information I received concerning only some of the project recovery schedule and the finance for the NZ Aid funding as following:
1. A few days after the Cyclone Pat hit Aitutaki I ‘flew’ over. The four weeks I was there, several meetings were held, one was by the Hon. Wilkie Rasmussen Minister of Finance and some of his officials staff. The names of those eligible for the funding in repairing the damaged houses were read out. This was held in the Amuri Village Community Hall. My name was on the list plus others. But some weeks/months later the project was officially managed by the Council and the Mayor of Aitutaki. Names were deleted from the list. L was off the list including Mrs Carmen Temata who had damaged tourist accommodation and contributing to tourist market in Aitutaki. There were others deleted from the list. What were the criteria applied for the deletion of the names of us Aitutakians who were deprived of our entitlements to the rebuilding of our Cyclone Pat damaged houses financed by the NZ Aid to cover the rebuilding cost?
This is a legal case which should be considered by who?
2. I consulted Mr Peter Scantlebury the NZ Aid Funding Clerk of works who managed the funding budget. He said final decisions for eligibility for the rebuilding was exclusively the Mayor’s and Councilors, including those entitled to receive the funding. Peter was the only person to pay out aid money for the building project so we missed out on the rebuilding and aid funding completely.
3. On return to Rarotonga, I consulted with Mr Vaine Teokotai the Secretary to the Honourable Wilkie Rasmussen who said I was not on the list. I wrote to him later and he said I was back on the list, Mrs Carmen Temata included. I am including a copy of this letter of 21 May 2010 with this letter I am writing now.
4. For the last few months I continued discussions about aid funding with relevant government Ministry officials who said there had to be a new aid funding project that the CIP Government should be in consultation with overseas sources or countries. A few months back I was in a minister’s office building when an official executive from Aitutaki presented a list of names of those 70 plus owners of Cyclone Pat damaged houses still not repaired’ I am sorry to say that the sudden appearance of the article in the Cook lslands News Friday October 2011, was just like the ‘sudden slamming of the main front door closed’ to the 70 plus house owners whose houses were damaged by cyclone Pat. They were also deprived of the cyclone Pat aid funding for house repairs. These forsaken Aitutakian home owners are tax payers business owners, old age pensioners, retirees, low income earners, prominent citizens and so forth. Some of them might seek greener pasture*overseas like those who have already departed immediately after cyclone damaged their houses. lt is hereby requested humbly that a meeting with Cabinet representatives be convened as soon as it is appropriate, so the 70 plus house owners can find out whatever other possible and reasonable means of funding should be available for the unrepaired houses. After cyclone Pat damaged Aitutaki, much local and overseas fundraising were ongoing. Many participated including some of our families local and overseas in Australia and NZ - parents, aunties, uncles and our own children. Why were we, 70 plus house owners deprived of the funding towards the damaged houses?
I was asked to ‘go public’ about the issue. Hence a copy to the Cook lslands Newspaper is being presented. I am sure that those families with the cyclone damaged houses still not repaired will appreciate it if meetings are held in Aitutaki and Rarotonga by the CIP government Ministerial representatives. We will then hear all the various kinds of comments - pros and cons from the people in Aitutaki and Rarotonga alike.
With all the numerous gallivanting abroad by the government minister one would have expected aid funding for our Cyclone Pat damaged houses granted by these generous aid donor countries. I read in the daily newspaper about various funding by the millions to the Cook lslands government such as climate change, renewable energy, infrastructure and so forth. But I don’t see any funding for the poor rejected Aitutaki 70 plus owners of Cyclone Pat damaged houses. How sad. Although the big affluent countries are being damaged by cyclones, flooding, earthquakes, they still offer aid packages granted to other countries in dire needs for aid funding.
In conclusion may I ask for some positive response and support funding wise for the rebuilding of the unrepaired Cyclone Pat damaged houses of the poor Aitutaki home owners. Thank you.
Sincerely Eric Ponia
1- re: Response “to Cyclone Pat recovery officially over” Cook lslands News article Friday 21
October 2011 to the Cook lslands News.
2 - re: Cyclone Pat damaged house in Amuri, Aitutaki house owner - Eric Ponia, rebuilding category 4.

Letter 3
10 March 2012
Hon Min of Finance
Mr Mark Brown
Cook Islands Government
Re: Meeting with Aitutaki home owners unrepaired Cyclone Pat February 2010 Damaged houses, eliminated from the New Zealand aid funding for recovery project.
Dear Sir,
I did have a brief discussion with you regarding a meeting asked of me to meet with the Aitutaki owners of unrepaired Cyclone Pat damaged houses of February 2010, as mentioned in the title as above.
The cyclone recovery project was advertised in the Cook Islands newspaper Monday January 2012 front page “…Ironing out the last of Cyclone Pat. The Cook Islands Government declared the Aitutaki’s cyclone recovery post-Pat was officially over…as of October (2011) Twenty months after Cyclone pat savaged Aitutaki, the Government closed the recovery period saying home and community facilities were rebuilt…”
My comments – this is utter nonsense as it happened the island secretary of Aitutaki came to Rarotonga towards the last few months of 2011 and presented a list of sixty plus damaged houses still unrepaired. Whatever happened?? Another issue was that there were three main different ministries involved in the Aid Funding project – Minister T Bishop and staff, MFEM – Russell Thomas, Vaine Teokotai (deceased) and Infrastructure. I contacted their senior staff concerning our entitlements for the rebuilding and funding of our Cyclone Pat damaged houses, their responses were so confusing and I left it at that. After two years of waiting for any funding for the recovery of our damaged houses, nothing happened. Hence my decision to fly over to Aitutaki, after I asked you Mr. Mark Brown as Finance Minister for any chance of funding for our unrepaired houses. I was quite satisfied with some possibilities mentioned in our discussions.
In Aitutaki I discussed with Mayor John Baxter and an island council representative and the island secretary CEO as heads of Aitutaki administration before I advertised and paid $20 for the house owners meeting on Aitutaki TV and Radio FM, held at the Ureia Community Hall, Monday 20 February 2012. In the meeting in Aitutaki the main agenda issues I raised were those I discussed with you and also mentioned about chances of receiving assistance of whatever form such as:
1. A builder financed by Aid Funding to assist home owners in rebuilding. There are different sized of houses and amount of material for the rebuilding.
2. Or a sum of aid funds available - $10,000, $20,000 if it is available.
3. Government is concerned about the “Forum Meeting August 20 in Aitutaki” This recovery phase of the rebuilding of the unrepaired houses could improve the outlook of the village house sites.
On my return from Aitutaki March 2nd, 2012, I met members of Parliament Mr Mona Ioane and Mr Ata Herman at the airport Nikao and was told my damaged house was on the list of the Infrastructure Ministry for 26 damaged, unrepaired houses for rebuilding – a sum of $15,000 for each house.
On Wednesday 7th March I met Ben Mose of Infrastructure and planning who told me see Donye Numa in Arorangi. Instead it was Joseph Akaruru who received me and said there was a new aid Funding proposal to New Zealand Aid Funding Agency, their response whether yes/no to be received the following week.
I hereby present the list of names of 34 Cyclone Pat damages unrepaired houses. Maybe some of the unrepaired houses could be on the list of Infrastructure and could be sorted out.
I hope the Mayor and his team could be informed of the outcome of the responses to my letter.
In conclusion, I sincerely wish to express my appreciation regarding your responses in discussions concerning possibility of the involvement of available funds if any.
Yours Faithfully,
Eric Ponia

Herald Issue 608 21 March
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