HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 650: 23 January 2013

Cyclone funds may have been used inappropriately

“The Aitutaki Island Council has no records as to where the $28,000 donated by the Cook Islands Community in Tokoroa went to.Those responsible should be held to account”

The Herald Edition of 9 January 2013 highlighted the article “where has the money gone” referring to what has happened to the money donated by people and organizations from NZ, Australia, the Cook islands and other parts of the world, to assist with the Cyclone Recovery process on Aitutaki devastated by Cyclone Pat in Feb 2010.
In a follow up to the earlier article, It is alleged that funds sent direct to the former Mayor of Aitutaki Mr Tai Herman may have been used inappropriately as to date, there has been no public accountability as to how much was received or how these funds were spent. Efforts to seek answers seem to have fallen on deaf ears and several NZ and Australian visitors to Aitutaki recently have expressed their frustration and anger when asking for information regarding these funds only to be told, “no comment or go and see the Council or Government.”.
One person interviewed claimed he had seen a lot of unfinished houses and yet officially, they say the housing project was completed. He quoted “ I know we made every effort to help when the call was made and even our friends and neighbours helped and to be given the cold shoulder treatment especially from a person who visited us in Auckland and I believe in other centres, virtually begging for help with money to rebuild Aitutaki (referring to the Former Mayor Tai Herman) is disgusting. I am embarrassed and ashamed to be Aitutakian after what I’ve seen and heard and my family and friends will not support any more fund raising efforts if another cyclone hits the Cooks.”
With that kind of response, surely someone out there should be taking notice as to where this money has gone to and who really is accountable for it. Looking at several fundraising efforts post Cyclone Pat, we would have to ask ourselves, is this really the spirit of true Cook Islanders who usually give from the heart but because of the lack of accountability, few are likely to respond in future and refuse to contribute or support a worthy cause. Imagine what would happen should a cyclone hit the Cook Islands tomorrow and there is widespread devastation. Ironically, there is one on the way and it could just as well be heading for the northern group and parts of the southern group including Aitutaki. “Who will come to your assistance given the Aitutaki experience” quoted the visitor.
Those responsible should be held to account publicly and where there is evidence of misappropriation, be dealt with accordingly. The visitor further stated that he went to the Council Administration office only to be told, they have to go and talk to the former Mayor as there are no records of how much was received and by whom. The current Mayor was no help stating that this was before his time and that any questions should be directed to the former Mayor.
Regardless, these people held public office and the funds obtained were from public donations. Those who contributed including the public at large, have a right to know where their money went and how it was spent. Government should now do the right thing and investigate otherwise it will find itself in future faced with the embarrassing dilemma of no international aid coming in times of another disaster because of public officials inability to be transparent in handling funds of this magnitude and the public’s lack of trust towards public officials including Government. With a donor meeting just around the corner, it would be politically naïve for Government to go to the table with a chequebook diplomacy mentality with an open hand while sweeping this serious controversy under the table on the other with a closed hand. Government is now urged to step up and step in to unravel this mess before it is too late.

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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