Those were the words of prime minister Henry Puna, speaking on Tuesday evening during the Waitangi Day celebrations at the New Zealand High Commissioner’s residence in Ngatipa.
Although the PM has refuted claims that his meeting with New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern in December included talks on the controversial subject of UN, Puna said that during Ardern’s scheduled visit in March, the equally contentious topic of graduation would have to be addressed.
“Whether we like it or not, graduation is coming. And for me personally, it’s something to be proud of, and there is nothing to be scared about.”
However, Puna added there would also be a need to prepare for a “readjustment” of Cook Islands foreign relations, as well as the country’s development aspirations and partnerships.
He pointed to his recent visit to Abu Dhabi as an example of expanding foreign relations, although he made sure to emphasise the importance of this country’s relationship with New Zealand.
“I’m pleased to say that the United Arab Emirates government is keen to establish diplomatic relations with little Cook Islands.
“We are doing what we can to ensure that when graduation does come, that this little country will be in a good place and that we have nothing to fear.
“If my friend James Beer (opposition shadow finance minister) is here, I want him to know that our relationship with New Zealand has never been in a better place.”
The government first became aware of that the Cook Islands was on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) graduation list back in 2015. The potential loss of aid funding sounded alarm bells, but it was later found out the country had been incorrectly assessed.
“They (the OECD) were basing it on gross domestic product (GDP) to determine our graduation status, which is wrong,” MFEM secretary Garth Henderson said back in October last year.
The Cook Islands was granted an extension until the end of 2018, so the country could come up with a measure for gross domestic income (GNI), which is the appropriate way to gauge whether a country should gain developed status.
A quarterly financial report released in January, it said the Cook Islands’ economic growth may not have been as strong as initially thought.
It also said there had been signs that GNI would turn out to be lower than GDP.
“Therefore, it is possible that the Cook Islands will not graduate,” the report said.
Finance minister Mark Brown said at the time that the government was waiting to see what the new statistics calculations for GNI would provide.
The figures are expected to be released in the coming months.