The theme was Cook Islands political reform: Towards 2055, when the nation will celebrate a century of self -government.
A Commission of Political Review was set up by the Government of the day under the chairmanship of lawyer Iaveta Short, with educator John Hermann and Emeritus Professor Ron Crocombe as members.
The Commission eventually made 13 recommendations:
- Reduce the term of office from five to four years.
- Reduce the number of MPs from 25 to 17 by rearranging representatives of one MP each from Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke, Mitiaro, Manihiki, Pukapuka/Nassau, Rakahanga and Tongareva. Then one MP for Puiakura, and Takitumu, two MPs for Te Au O Tonga and four MPs elected as a whole of the nation as a single constituency.
- Change the qualifications of voters by limiting the rights of Cook Islanders to three months’ residency as well as equate the rights of permanent residents to those of Cook Islanders.
- Introduce a preference system of voting and allow a power of recall subject to a petition of 60% of voters and a three months’ cooling-off period.
- Apply time limits of 16 years for all MPs inclusive of 12 years’ restrictions for ministers and eight years for PM.
- Sanction Parliament to elect the PM from only the four nationally open MP seats. Cabinet be restricted to six members inclusive of the PM and for all ministers to be MPs except for one outside appointment. The appointed minister speaks in Parliament but has no vote.
- Limit the Queen’s Representative to three terms of three years each and selected in a consultative process between the PM, Leader of the Opposition, and the Chief Justice of the Cook Islands, and then recommended to the Queen. A three member national appointments council panel shall also be established.
- Apply term limits of 16 years to island and vaka councils and eight years to mayors. Abolish the post of government representative.
- Reduce the costs of the political system by more cost-effective recording and dissemination of information.
- Pay ministers fairly and expect them to work full-time and not have other income-earning occupations. Pay ordinary MPs part-time and replaced the present parliamentary superannuation scheme, or even abolish it.
- Retain the current New Zealand-Cook Islands relationship while cultivating an improved Australia-Cook Islands link. Independence is not an option for the time being.
- Improve the system of check and balances with a national appointments council responsible for selecting judges and justices of the peace, the speaker of the house (if chosen from outside Parliament), ombudsman, Public Service Commission, the solicitor-general, the chair of the Public Expenditure Review Commission, the auditor, the commissioner of police and members of statutory authorities. Control political party accounts, political advertising and campaigning and provide controlling transitional provisions to reduce negative impacts between changes of government.
- Set aside funds for a continued study regarding the future evolution of the Cook Islands political system.
Perhaps these recommendations could be used to restart the political reform process?