He was commenting on the case of career criminal Rimaati Junior Iotua who was jailed for five years and nine months after pleading guilty to 15 charges of burglary committed over 10 months from July 23, 2013. Thefts involved $9000 cash and valuable items such as smartphones and iPads.
“The adverse effect of crime on visitors is quite significant and the impact is more than what we think,” said Fua.
“Not only does this damage the visitor experience, it also undermines the marketing efforts by Government and the tourism industry in key source markets, it erodes investor confidence and reduces international competitiveness because of higher security costs.
“Some countries with a strong tourism focus divert their limited resources away from health and education to focus on the control of crime and the necessary facilities to administrate justice, negatively impacting their social development.
“We hope that this (sentence) sends a strong message to those disrupting our visitors as tourism is an important industry for the economic survival of the Cook Islands.”
While it was good that Justice Sir Hugh Williams had handed down lengthy sentences, the pair should go through a strong rehabilitation programme upon their release to ensure re-offending did not continue, Fua said.
Cook Islands Tourism Council president John Webb said tourism was a key driver of the Cook Islands economy, and burglaries targeting tourists had a broader knock-on effect for the country’s tourist industry.
“We need to assure visitors to our country that they will be safe and secure while they are here.
“Good policing is making a difference and tougher sentences for burglaries will send a strong message to deter criminals in our community.”
Iotua also pleaded guilty to one charge of escaping from custody and another of possessing a utensil for drug use, adding nine months to his sentence.
Though aged just 24 Iotua had previously been jailed eight times, notching up 61 convictions, many involving burgling tourist accommodation. His accomplice, Dominic Taru received three years jail.
In his sentencing notes, Justice Williams said nearly all of Iotua’s offences had targeted tourists, and that was the most despicable aspect of his offending.
The Crown had pointed to the fact that burglary was an ongoing and major problem in the Cook Islands, impacating on the security not only of the entire Rarotonga community, but on tourism, a major stream in the Cook Islands economy.
“So burglars in the Cook Islands need to recognise the sentences are steadily increasing and will continue to increase until burglary no longer becomes such a prevalent offence.”