Locals snubbed for top legal job

Tuesday January 12, 2016 Written by Published in Local

A local lawyer and former politician is criticising the government for snubbing Cook Island Maori applicants for country’s top legal job.

 

Former Democratic Party leader and lawyer Wilkie Rasmussen was one of four local applicants to apply for the Solicitor General position.

Prime Minister Henry Puna announced on Friday that lawyer David R James, a Canadian national living in New Zealand, would take up the position.

“Forgive me, if I sound like someone with sour grapes – that’s not how I want to come across,” said Rasmussen in his weekly “Tropical Chronicles” column in CI News yesterday.

“If not me (as a choice for the position), because of my political orientation, what about my local Cook Islands colleagues? After all, we have had Cook Islanders there before and they were fairly able.

“I know that two of (the applicants) were of Cook Islands Maori extraction, have good knowledge of Cook Islands law and culture and are experienced law practitioners.

Rasmussen said choosing an outsider for the job was a hypocritical decision on the part of the government.

During several election campaigns, the Cook Islands Party had publically declared in policy manifestos its determination for Cook Islanders to ascend to the top jobs in this country.

They had made the same declaration at political rallies and meetings, on radio, television and in print media, Rasmussen said.

“Maybe we love fostering that image of our people being contained in the ‘not quite there yet box,’ but keep on with your singing, dancing and celebrations.

“So how are we ever going to ever get there and we do not take a punt on ourselves?”

News of the Solicitor General appointment also prompted a letter from a CI News reader under the name, “Walk the Talk.”

The writer said that news of James’ appointment had come just one month and two days after an announcement by government that a voluntary retirement scheme was to be introduced for government workers aged 60 and over.

“The whole idea of this new policy move for public servants to retire was to make way for younger workers and graduates wishing to work for the public service to join.”

Not only was the new Solicitor General a 65 year old man, he was also a foreign national and the four applicants from within the Cook Islands had been ignored, the writer said.

“He may have the wealth of knowledge befitting the position, but the fact of the matter is, the appointment is a total disregard by government of what they announced a month earlier as the way forward for old workers to retire and for new replacements of young blood - and graduates at that, to come forward.

“I have nothing against this man, but I am raising this issue against the government of the day that says one thing and does the opposite. How inspiring is that for our people?”

However, Puna’s press secretary, Trevor Pitt defended the government’s decision.

“The committee made the recommendation and it did that because the available local applicants – few in number that they were, did not meet all the requirements for the post. 

“The committee was mindful that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet have a preference to localise appointments such as this, but unfortunately, the available pool did not allow the members to make that recommendation on this occasion.”

James is set to take up his post at the end of this month.    

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