Fuel farms on ‘provisional’ licences
New police minister ‘impressed’
Airport charging plan shelved
‘Signs of desperation’
Hostile backlash to charges
Salute to Wigmore
Pearl auction to help sailors
Tax increase ‘insane’
TB patient in hospital
Honesty earns praise
Toa moves before EIA
George scoffs at rival
Fuel farms on ‘provisional’ licences
Both Toa Petroleum and Triad Pacific Petroleum are operating under provisional dangerous goods licences.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs became aware of issues of non-compliance at both facilities following the release of a damning independent report in late 2010. Both were subsequently denied full dangerous goods licences.
Since then, Toa and Triad have taken steps to bring their facilities up to standard, and today the ministry is satisfied that neither facility poses a threat to public safety.
Under the act, the Ministry of Internal Affairs is authorised to issue provisional licences to facilities it believes are not fully compliant, but nonetheless are not endangering public safety.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs, under the Dangerous Goods Act 1984, annually assesses standards of compliance and has the power to either “issue licences where there are no non-compliance issues” or “issue provisional licences where there may be some non-compliance but...public safety is not compromised” or to “not issue a licence if the level of non-compliance places significant risk to public safety”.
On those grounds the ministry granted both Toa and Triad provisional licences, with stipulations to improve their facilities in order to be eligible for full licences.
“Based on the ongoing investigations since the 2010 report, the ministry is satisfied that Triad has made significant upgrades on its bulk fuel terminal to address 12 of the 16 key recommendations identified for improvement in the report. Triad will provide to the Ministry of Internal Affairs a compliance plan on how they will address the remaining critical issues by no later than July 1, 2010. Triad has been issued a provisional licence for one year for the 2012-2013 period,” internal affairs secretary Bredina Drollet said.
“Toa has made an attempt to address areas of inconsistencies, however the ministry has accepted that the expected expiry of its existing lease on 30 April 2012 has prevented further developments to improve its facility. Toa has been issued a provisional licence at its existing site until 30 April 2012.”
Dangerous goods licences are issued for sites, not companies.
Accordingly, Toa Petroleum has a provisional licence to operate until April 30, when its Avatiu lease expires.
Should Toa’s new Nikao site earn approval – if the period for submissions in response to its environmental impact assessment report passes without a hitch – the company will have to draft its own compliance plan. Without a licence or provisional licence, it is not authorised to operate past April 30.
Triad Pacific Petroleum, for its part, has until the end of June to draw up a compliance plan, which the secretary of internal affairs will then approve or reject and issue or deny a licence accordingly. The report in question was the subject of extensive discussion in the high court during the most recent sitting of Chief Justice Tom Weston.
During a hearing Weston was vocal in expressing his concern that the 2010 report – to which the written submissions of both parties frequently referred – had not been publicly released.
Following the court case and a formal request under the Official Information Act from Cook Islands News, the ministry agreed yesterday to release the report.
See also: Report damns Te Aponga Uira ; Majority in breach of the law ; Ministry releases dangerous goods report
New police minister ‘impressed’
| Cook Islands Police held a parade on Tuesday
to welcome in new Minister of Police Teariki Heather. 12041743
Minister of Police Teariki Heather says community involvement is key to police work and he will use his new role to encourage Cook Islands Police to meet as often and as regularly as they can with the people of each vaka.
Heather officially took over the police portfolio from Prime Minister Henry Puna at a ceremony at police headquarters on Tuesday. Puna was absent from the handover as he left for Manihiki yesterday morning.
At the police parade, Heather received his first look at the Rarotonga force that is now included in his ministerial portfolio.
He said they were doing an impressive job for their relatively small number and he looked forward to seeing them continue their work.
Heather also said that it was important that police maintained an active and noticeable presence in the community.
He said police would soon hold meetings in each vaka to maintain their contact with the communities in each. He said traditional leaders would also be contacted to engage their support.
Delinquent youth – young offenders that cannot go before courts – have been in police’s sights over recent weeks and months in response to the continuing problem of repeat, underage offending.
Last week, police reported that they had received a number of community suggestions on how they can best handle young offenders, including new offenders and particularly those repeatedly committing dishonesty offences such as thefts and burglaries.
Heather said community involvement was particularly important in these cases in order to help prevent offending and rehabilitate persistent wrongdoers.
Heather inherited the police portfolio from Puna, who is taking over outer island governance in return.
Outer island governance has been included under the Ministry of Infrastructure and Planning since 2008, but will now be handled by the prime minister’s staff.
In a release on Monday, Puna said that the exact details and the make-up of the outer islands governance body was not yet known.
See also: Australian police donate to Cooks police
Airport charging plan shelved
Proposed changes to aeronautical charges at Rarotonga Airport have been sidelined following the public bashing they received last week.
The government will instead consider wider changes to what costs and charges are being asked of airlines in taxes and fees.
Airport Authority chief executive officer Joe Ngamata yesterday said government had decided to shelve the proposed increases to aeronautical charges and pursue an examination of the wider scope of charges and taxes surrounding air travel in the Cook Islands.
The authority had compiled a plan to increase its fees over three years beginning in August.
It would have been the first time since 1991 that aeronautical charges at Rarotonga Airport had increased.
Ngamata said that the increases had become necessary if the authority was to meet government plans to have it either breaking even or running at a profit in the future.
The new charges would have seen some existing fees increase this year, next year and in 2014, while other fees were introduced.
The fees covered increases in landing and terminal charges as well as cargo and passenger tariffs.
At present, the authority attracts about $2 million in government subsidies but about two years ago it was instructed that it needed to rethink its business models and become self-sustaining.
One way to help meet the shortfall in revenue was to increase the aeronautical charges at the airport, but the planned increases drew criticism when Cook Islands News made them public last week.
Last week financial secretary Richard Neves said the government would be considering a “holistic” and broader approach to the issues of departure tax and aeronautical charges.
Ngamata said the Airport Authority had begun its consultations with international airlines on its aeronautical charges – as is standard in the industry – but that consultation would now have to wait.
CINews has asked for further comment from the Cook Islands Party Government cabinet on its plans and discussions on air travel charges.
Public health inspectors began a new round of tutaka health checks yesterday.
The inspections will be conducted randomly with health officials fanning out across the island checking properties.
Senior health inspector Charlie Ave says the main purpose of the week-long tutaka will be to check for mosquito breeding and resting place.
“We want to make sure we prevent our island from a dengue outbreak which is happening in Niue, Samoa, New Caledonia and Wallis and Fortuna,” says Ave.
As well as mosquito breeding sites, health inspectors will be checking household waste management including the state of septic tanks and waste treatments.
They will also look at the efforts households put into recycling their rubbish.
Ave says the health team will be checking to make sure that stock animals such as pigs are tethered more than 50 meters from dwellings and streams.
Health nurses will also join health inspectors to check on mothers with newborns and toddlers and make sure they are in a hygienic environment and are receiving the support they need to raise their children.
Ave is encouraging property owners to check for stagnant water around the home as these are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Ave says vacant land remains a problem area during tutaka time as landowners are neglecting to look after their property or are overseas.
Health inspectors will leave a notice of their check for each household with feedback and recommendations for improving clean-up efforts.
The tutaka will end on Friday 20.
‘Signs of desperation’
Any increase in departure tax or increase in airport surcharges will be sternly opposed by the opposition because it is a direct contradiction of the former Democratic Party Government’s plans to lower departure taxes.
“Our idea was to lower departure tax back to $35 and let that tax pay the loan by the Airport Authority that built the new airport terminal,” Leader of the Opposition Wilkie Rasmussen said yesterday.
“As minister of finance in the last year of the Democratic Government in office, this was our plan because when we looked at the facts, the high departure tax along with the awkwardness of people departing at the airport having to physically cough up cash had kept away a large number of tourists intending to visit the Cook Islands.
“We believed lowering departure tax will make it easier for Air New Zealand and Virgin Blue, the airlines servicing the Cook Islands to incorporate it into the tickets and its invisibility will be a draw factor for tourists.”
Rasmussen said the government needs to understand the demography of government’s resources and move them around to address the priorities created by the global financial crisis.
He said he and his colleagues in the opposition caucus and Democratic Party are astonished by the government’s poor foresight and stubbornness.
“It is trying to marry the positives and the negatives when the law of logic says you can’t. In other words, it wants money for superlatives and funds for government services. With this approach, stimulating and growing the economy becomes a side issue when it should be the main issue of concern.
“I know that the minister of finance has instructed the Airport Authority to generate more revenue but that’s like fobbing off responsibility and for the authority to cop the flak from the public.
“These are again signs of desperation by this government to find cash and in my opinion it has failed badly within the given period of one year to put into place strategies to make things better. Construction is down, retailers and wholesalers are struggling to make ends meet, shipping is turning into a monopoly, tourism is levelling too long and people are leaving the country.
“It is extremely disturbing when we now see confirmation of a government full of inexperienced ministers whose main agenda is to stay popular rather than take some common sense cost saving measures.”
Eight burglars have been arrested by police after detectives swooped on a number of homes on Thursday, Friday and at the weekend.
Police say the group of eight male youths are believed to be responsible for the spate of burglaries through the Avarua area last week.
Some of those arrested appeared in court on Saturday and two of the youths have been released into the custody of their parents under strict conditions.
Four older youth offenders have been remanded in custody and will appear in court on Thursday.
Another two offenders were arrested yesterday as part of the police operation and the pair will appear in court today.
Stolen property was recovered during the operation and police are talking to owners to organise the return of stolen goods.
Inspector Tere Patia says while the arrests are a great outcome, local officers are still ‘hard at it’ preparing cases for court.
“We will be having more conversations with people who may be able to help put the pieces of the puzzle together during the next few days,” says Patia.
Patia adds that police are aware of people in the community benefiting from the proceeds of these crimes.
“We will be talking to them, too. It is unfortunate that this is happening as these people are actually fuelling the habits of these burglars and causing anger, frustration and disappointment to those people whose homes, accommodation places and businesses are being targeted.”
Patia would like to remind people benefiting from the burglaries that receiving stolen property is a crime and you will be charged for this crime when police do catch you.
Police are urging home owners, business owners, and accommodation owners to do their bit by properly securing properties and not making it any easier for the burglars to target their places.
Patia says last week a police patrol discovered a business premises with its front door slightly ajar, at 2 o’clock in the morning.
Inside the premises were valuable items including cash.
“This was a case of the owner forgetting to secure the premises prior to closing up for the day but it’s opportunities like this that burglars will take advantage of, causing grief to the owners.”
Patia points out a case where business owners have taken the extra security precaution of installing security cameras in their premises which have lead police to the offenders very quickly.
“One of these cases involved a burglar who had a job but did a burglary on a residential home on the other side of the island away from his home and place of work, while he was on his morning break.”
Patia urges the community to do its part to prevent homes and businesses being targeted by burglars.
Hostile backlash to charges
Backlash to proposed increases to airport charges appear to have sunk Airport Authority plans for dramatic rises to its fee structure, although no official word from government has confirmed such reports.
Cook Islands News understands draft proposals that pitched increases to airport usage fees of between 80 and 300 percent over three years have now been dropped.
Second-hand sources have told CINews that the proposal in its current form has been “taken off the table” following the hostile response it received from details published yesterday.
Edgewater Resort and Spa general manager Chris McGeown yesterday said he welcomed news that the departure tax would likely soon be included in ticket prices.
But McGeown warned that although he thought travellers would accept a $55 increase to their tickets, anything more could begin to hurt tourist numbers.
He said that if ticket prices were bumped up substantially to cover the extra costs of any new charges or fees at Rarotonga Airport, it could begin to put the Cook Islands out of touch with its main competitors in the Pacific.
“In the end, travellers have to pay the departure tax, either upfront or when they leave... I think the ticket prices can stand having an extra $55 in it,” McGeown said.
“But if the prices are bumped up by $70 or $100 we might get issues when you start comparing our cost to other countries.”
McGeown said the Airport Authority should examine whether there was room to make its processes and operations more efficient, rather than add new fees and charges.
He also said the government could continue to use taxpayer money to subsidise the airport.
“All these people who are paying for the shortfall are benefitting in the end from having these tourists in the country,” McGeown said.
The Cook Islands Tourism Corporation plans to hold a meeting for tourism industry members late next week.
Chief executive officer Carmel Beattie said that the corporation hoped to hold a meeting either Thursday or Friday morning next week to discuss the topics of aeronautical charges and the departure tax.
She said the corporation would use the intervening time to investigate the issue and research potential impacts of the proposed increases to charges on the international industry.
Beattie said the corporation had only heard about the proposal last week and felt it would be premature to speculate on the issue without proper research.
Salute to Wigmore
The Democratic Party is mourning the loss of one of its most prominent leaders.
The Honourable Robert Wigmore lost his battle with cancer yesterday morning,
his passing leaving a void in the heart of Titikaveka and within the Democratic
Described by those who knew him as a “very hardworking man” and a “quiet achiever”, Wigmore leaves a palpable gap in the Cook Islands Parliament.
A Democratic Party caucus met with Wigmore’s family for a prayer service yesterday afternoon to honour the former opposition leader’s life.
Party president Sean Willis says Wigmore will be “sadly missed by Cook Islands Democratic Party and the people of the Cook Islands”.
“The fact that Papa Robert opted to come back and spend quality time with the family when he became aware of sickness and condition showed the type of person he was. He put his family and his people ahead of concerns for his health,” Willis said of Wigmore’s decision not to pursue chemotherapy treatment overseas, but to spend his last months in Titikaveka with his people.
Leader of the opposition Wilkie Rasmussen echoed Willis’ sorrow, noting that the party is “very, very saddened” by the news of Wigmore’s passing.
A funeral service will be held at the Wigmore family home in Titikaveka from 1pm. All sports activities in the village have been cancelled out of respect for the Wigmore family.
The Democratic Party will either ratify Rasmussen as its leader or elect an alternate replacement at its conference in August. Until then Rasmussen will continue to occupy the opposition leader position.
of wisdom’ honoured ; also PM expresses condolences
Pearl auction to help sailors
Helema Williams and Taua Elisa are pictured with control inspector with Caroline Tiria
Two pearls of Manihiki have received an added push in their Olympic dreams thanks to a contribution from the Cook Islands Pearl Authority.
The authority has donated a pearl necklace to the Cook Islands Sailing Association to help fund Helema Williams and Taua Elisa’s Olympic qualifier attempts and – all things going to plan – their appearance at the 2012 London Olympics.
They are pictured above with pearl quality control inspector Caroline Tiria.
The necklace, a string of mostly C-grade circle pearls, will be auctioned off over the coming week and is hoped to at least reach its market value of $2500 for the hopeful Olympians.
Elisa will leave for Germany and the final stages of Olympic qualifications next weekend.
Williams will depart the following week, joining Elisa in Germany as part of the qualifiers when the women’s regatta begins the following week.
The pair is aiming to stay on in Europe after the event, shifting from the continent to the United Kingdom for another regatta and then the Olympics should they qualify.
Elisa and Williams will be carrying the hopes and dreams of the local sailing fraternity and the Cook Islands in general.
Elisa said the pair have felt the pressure from their families and from the sailing community building for a couple of years, but it was something they could use as motivation.
“This is the biggest – this is the Olympics. We just want to do well for us and for everyone in the Cook Islands,” he said.
To put in a bid on the necklace, email Anne Tierney on email@example.com or phone 54605.
The necklace will be on display all day today at the Sailing Club in Muri for anyone wanting to examine it. Tierney said she would also show it to people throughout the week and asked anyone interested to give her a call.
Tax increase ‘insane’
A departing passenger pays the current departure tax of $55 at the Rarotonga Airport where staff say they are often abused by people appalled at the already high charge.
Business leaders yesterday used words like “insane” and “gotta be nuts” to describe proposed government increases to departure tax and airport charges.
News of the controversial increases was leaked to Cook Islands News despite attempts by officials to play down their intentions as being “for discussion only”.
Airlines operating international and domestic flights in the Cook Islands could be asked to pay almost double what they currently are in charges and fees to use the Rarotonga Airport if the proposal currently under discussion is adopted.
In addition to these changes, government is also considering applying increases to the departure tax paid by passengers leaving Rarotonga.
Cook Islands News understands the already contentious departure tax will likely rise by about $15 from $55 to at least $70.
The proposed changes to the airport’s fees include a staggered increase over three years from this year that will see charges rise by between 80 and 300 percent of their current levels by 2014.
Air Rarotonga managing director Ewan Smith described the changes as “breathtaking” and said their introduction would be inappropriate at this stage.
But until the proposal was released in full, Smith said he was not prepared to comment publicaly on the issue.
Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce president Teresa Manarangi-Trott said the chamber believed that travellers will end up paying for the increased charges as airlines move the extra costs onto them.
“Any increase in charges or fees will increase the costs to consumers and that’s a concern,” Manarangi-Trott said.
The Airport Authority has begun holding consultations with international airlines on the proposed changes, though chief executive officer Joe Ngamata said it was too early in the process to confirm any increases.
The authority currently runs at a loss and receives just over $2 million in payments from the government each year to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the Rarotonga Airport.
Ngamata said the authority was being asked to restructure its business model so that it no longer runs at a loss.
He said that the proposed increase to fees for airlines that use the facilities at Rarotonga was aimed at plugging that gap.
“About two years ago the government asked us to put together a plan to move away from receiving government appropriations. As a business, we can’t continue to operate at a loss – that’s what is driving this change,” Ngamata said.
The authority will continue to consult with foreign airlines on the proposed changes for a number of months.
Ngamata said that he hoped the new fee structure would be finalised and ready for adoption by August this year.
Ngamata said it was standard practice for airlines and airport authorities to discuss proposed changes to fees and charges at airports in order to find an acceptable figure for both parties.
The Cook Islands tourism industry has not been included in any consultation at this stage.
The lack of consultation has drawn criticism from industry members in Rarotonga and the outer islands.
Tourism Industry Council president Stephen Lyon said the council was concerned that the government had decided not to bring members of the industry in for the discussions.
Likewise, Aitutaki resort operator Michael Henry said he would have liked
to see the Airport Authority and government engage the people of the Cook
Islands in order to better explore the options available to them.
Also see: Departure tax increase ‘up for discussion’
; New charges ‘not in interest of country’
TB patient in hospital
A 33-year-old man is recovering in hospital after being admitted in a seriously ill condition three weeks ago and subsequently diagnosed with tuberculosis.
The man went into hospital on March 18 and was placed in isolation after it was suspected he may have tuberculosis, a bacterial infection the patient said he once had when he was about 17 years old.
He has been isolated from other patients since.
Tuberculosis, commonly known as TB, was confirmed following tests on sputum samples that were collected from the patient and sent to New Zealand for analysis. When a person is infected, the infection can spread to any organ in the body – and most often is found in the lungs.
In the patient’s first X-ray, TB was detected in his right lung. A follow-up X-ray showed it was spreading to the left side.
Attending physician Dr Zaw Aung says the patient is doing better.
“He’s clinically improving, he’s not spitting out blood anymore, and he’s eating more. He’s livelier.”
While the patient remains on a daily regime of anti-tuberculosis drugs, Public Health inspectors are keeping a close eye on family and friends of the patient, including those in Aitutaki and Mauke, to be sure they are in good health and to reduce the risk of other people being exposed to TB.
The man’s wife has been tested and is free of the infection.
The couple, who own a village store, have three children who are staying with the wife’s parents in the meantime. Their children were also tested with negative results.
Honesty earns praise
Ngariki Katuke returned renowned cameraman Richard Wollocombe’s camera.
Nikao Primary School student Ngariki Katuke has given renowned cameraman Richard Wollocombe a reason to smile, and an appreciation for the honesty and goodness of the Cook Islands people.
Wollocombe, who has worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation on such acclaimed television series as ‘Blue Planet’, was in Rarotonga last month with a Conservation International crew to film Cook Islands biodiversity and interview local people on camera.
His footage and images will be edited and spliced into a documentary promoting the Cook Islands marine park and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area to the wider international community.
While Wollocombe was here, he lost a Canon D-10 camera in black underwater housing at the Avatiu wharf.
More than a week passed and he had no word of the camera’s whereabouts. Discounting it as lost, he contacted Cook Islands News and the newspaper ran a story informing the public of the loss of important footage.
A few days later, Katuke returned the camera.
“I can’t begin to thank you enough. This means so very, very much to us,” Wollocombe said via email. “It was more sentimental then anything else. Suddenly it takes on a whole other meaning! My warmest wishes to this young boy and his family. Please thank everyone who helped to find the camera. It means so much to us to come to an island with honest, good people. We look forward to our next visit.”
Toa moves before EIA
Toa Petroleum will not be constructing its new depot in Nikao until it is authorised to do so by the Rarotonga Environment Authority, promises director Brett Porter.
An environmental impact assessment (EIA) report was published at the weekend for public viewing, and until May 7 the community has the opportunity to make written objections to the National Environment Service regarding the fuel facility’s relocation.
But Toa Petroleum’s lease on its Avatiu property expires on April 30 – and as the relocation is a time-consuming, $1 million undertaking, Toa is going ahead with the move before the window for EIA submissions closes.
T&M Heather and Cook Islands General Transport are moving nine empty tanks – eight fuel tanks plus one extra for waste oil – before the weekend and Paul Mangakahia is planning to move the company’s office building by next week.
Toa assures the public, though, that it will not be undertaking any construction in Nikao before May 7. Should the Rarotonga Environment Authority refuse EIA approval, Toa will make alternative arrangements.
Porter is confident, however, that the depot will get the green light, and guarantees that both the move and the proposed depot comply with international standards and the Dangerous Goods Act.
In terms of the proposed facility at Nikao, Porter says independent assessors, technicians and engineers have been closely involved in drafting its construction plan.
“What we are planning is fully compliant with the Dangerous Goods Act and international standards,” he said yesterday.
Neighbouring businesses and landlords claim they were never formally notified of Toa’s plan to relocate.
Tina Iro, who owns the building across from the airport which houses Fitness Cook Islands, Celebration on the Rock Church, the Office of the Ombudsman and Caf Jireh, says she learned of Toa’s plan last week, when a project manager contacted her about hooking up to her power connection.
Porter says he is open to meeting with anyone who voices an objection to the relocation and the proposed development. Yesterday afternoon he had plans to meet Iro and some of her building’s tenants.
George scoffs at rival
Teenui-Mapumai Member of Parliament Norman George says Taoro Brown should “focus on being a good mayor for Atiu” and abandon his political aspirations.
Recently the Teenui-Mapumai camp of the Cook Islands Party (CIP) staged a run-off, during which it elected Brown the unofficial CIP candidate for the 2014 election.
Brown told Cook Islands News his informal victory comes in response to what his party perceives as a lack of representation in parliament, given their candidate is an independent.
George calls Brown’s allegation that the CIP is not being represented in parliament the “understatement of the year”.
“I have a reputation of being a fierce debater, now Taoro is advocating that he will be better than the experienced political veteran that I am?”
George hit back at Brown in an emotive statement, advising his potential opponent to stick to his mayoral post.
“So far he is sub-standard – the Atiu Island Council is not performing at all,” George alleged. “The people of Atiu do not know everything about Taoro Strickland (Brown). If they did, they would never elect him to the dignified and respectful office of mayor. I will make full disclosures at the appropriate time.”
George has called Brown’s career aspirations irresolute.
“One minute he was moving to New Zealand for the education of his children, when he secured a job with the Ministry of Health as the Cook Islands referral liaison officer in Auckland, then he changed his mind. He also worked for Air Rarotonga doing various duties (including freight handling) and as I understand at some point, freight services in Auckland for Air New Zealand for a time.
“Stability is an important quality in politics.”
George plans to visit his electorate in Teenui and Mapumai this weekend. He points out that he planned the trip last month and is not visiting because of recent media surrounding Brown’s potential candidacy.
“At the end of the day the verdict will have to be made by the people of Teenui, Mapumai. Questions of qualifications, experience, and stability must be addressed,” George said.
“It is not all about vote buying, giving away alcohol and food. I believe that is already happening in Teenui, Mapumai despite the general election being two years away. When a candidate relies on bribery to get elected, it clearly signals that they have no other talent to put to the elector. I look forward to the challenge.”