Those attending were reminded in speeches from Internal Affairs minister Albert Nicholas, and Marsters, that the marketplace was born out of extremely tough times.
“In essence the programme was set up back then to cater for our people,” he said.
It was a unique time in our history where our government employees had to be laid off, and drastic measures had to be taken at that time.”
Marsters said that despite the Cook Islands having been severely hit by the 1991 financial crisis, it was still an exciting time as the country looked forward to the upcoming South Pacific Arts Festival in Rarotonga the following year.
As the community banded together, the government moved forward with plans to build the National Auditorium to help host the event, as well as setting up a new market space to move vendors from their previous spot set up outside CITC in town.
The Punanga Nui was built on reclaimed land and Nicholas said the market was designed by government to help the “little people” in the community get ahead, not the big businesses around town.
There was however, said Marsters, much resistance at the time from vendors at the old market site opposite the CITC main store, to pack up and shift to the new site. They did not want to move… “They went on TV complaining saying. ‘We don’t want to move down there’.”
Nicholas said many people were critical of the proposal and were adamant the market plan would never work.
And, after working out a plan with landowners, former Cabinet Marsters and the late Kura Strickland (Internal Affairs minister at the time) had the huge task Nicholas said, of removing those “troublemakers” from the old site and bringing them down to the Punanga Nui. Those “troublemakers” included his mother.
“She was one of those stubborn vendors, who refused to come down here, from up there.”
But after much debating the issue, and a special kaikai held in government’s Cabinet room to sweeten the vendors up, things finally got moving, said Marsters.
And he joked, “We were lucky then that we don’t have the environmental service that we have today. Otherwise we would have had a lot of problems. So we just went and did it, and filled all of this (land).”
Marsters said they also met the market vendors’ demands of onsite toilets, running water and power. The vendors set up their first committee and it was all go from there, apart from a minor issue over tax along the way.
A year later the tax department were chasing vendors down, said Marsters, until the government intervened and overruled that they already paid their tax when they go to the shops and spend their money.
The market plan also made way for the new secondary road running alongside the market.
Marsters added that architect George Cowan’s original plans included a marina on the eastern side of the market and a berthing space for cruise ships.
And he thinks he has a copy of the plans if government wants to relook at it, especially now that there are more countries looking at investment development opportunities.
Market manager William Taripo said he was now awaiting further government funding to complete the next stage of the Punanga Nui development, which includes a new permanent shade canopy and shaded dome areas and new toilets.
In the meantime, the markets success is almost certainly guaranteed to continue well into the future, with dozens of stall owners vying for a spot and locals and tourists flooding the market every Saturday morning.