Evans: Why I was replaced

Saturday September 28, 2019 Written by Published in Environment
Goldman Environmental Prize winner Jacqui Evans. 19092738 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Jacqui Evans. 19092738

Jacqui Evans has spoken out about why the Prime Minister dismissed her from her role as head of the Marae Moana marine reserve.

Evans said:"I was invited to comment on the Communique," she began, referring to a document produced after the Pacific Islands Forum last month, an official meeting during which Fiji's prime minister called for a 10-year moratorium, or hold, on seabed mining.

“The paragraph endorsing Fiji’s moratorium was not supported,” Evans continued.

“I suggested that we support Fiji. The reasons behind my advice were: one, it would be consistent with statements by the PM in the past, and secondly, we would be able to continue to explore as planned.”

The Office of the Prime Minister yesterday announced that Ridge-to-Reef project coordinator Maria Tuoro would replace Evans.

At the end of the official statement, Henry Puna’s chief of staff Ben Ponia thanked Evans for bringing “passion, expertise, and energy into this role”.

Sources said Puna had been frustrated when Evans won the internationally-renowned Goldman Environmental Prize for her work creating Marae Moana, as he believed he was its champion. He was further annoyed at her support for a moratorium.

Yesterday, Ponia said Marae Moana was “truly a Cook Islands creation” and by banning commercial fishing and mining within 50 nautical miles of the islands, it had accomplished a lot. “The challenge is to also bring Marae Moana closer, into our lagoons and surrounding islands, supporting ra’ui, local conservation efforts, and other eco-activities.

“Maria’s experience under the Ridge-to-Reef project, her cultural awareness, and strong grassroots communication skills will be an invaluable suite of skills for achieving the island-level plans under Marae Moana.”

When she was informed of her dismissal, Evans was working on coordinating a marine spatial plan, or regulations declaring what industrial activities are allowed where, for the Cook Islands’ ocean space. At present, the 50 mile exclusion zones around each island are the only regulations prescribed by the Act.

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Democratic Party leader Tina Browne said Evans’ dismissal was “an all-time low” for government. “It is absolutely shocking and completely unacceptable for the government to do this to a highly qualified, passionate Cook Islander who has dedicated most of her life to the protection of our ocean.”

The statement expresses Browne’s “complete respect” for Evans, whom she said had “done the honourable thing and stood up for what is right and she has paid a big price for that by losing her job”.

Browne said it sent a grim message: “That message is, do exactly what the government wants, however irrational it may be or detrimental to our environment and future, or face being dumped.”

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