“But when they have considered it, stakeholders, including the island council, traditional leaders, religious council, sports and cultural bodies and landowners, will decide whether or not they should proceed, and no one else.”
Details of the project will be taken to Penrhyn by island mayor Tini Ford this Saturday and it will be up to the people to decide if they wish to undertake the development and breathe life into their dying economy, or remain dependent on aid from Rarotonga, Webb says.
“The board understands 19 people have returned from Australia hoping to participate in the development of their homeland and they too will travel to Penrhyn on Saturday.”
Another 500 Penrhyn islanders have signalled their intention to return home with board director Pastor Morris.
And this brings into question the claimed lack of support for the Penrhyn project, Webb says.
Since they were first revealed in CI News, the group’s plans for a fishing hub development on Penhryn have come under fierce attack from the island’s former MP, Wilkie Rasmussen.
Earlier this week Rasmussen claimed islanders had said an outright “no” to Merchant of Paradise’s plan to develop a fishing base on the island, also rejecting purse seine fishing.
An undeterred Webb says the Merchant of Paradise project for Penrhyn will include a fish transhipment hub as home base for a local fleet of 15 fishing boats to fish Cook Islands waters.
He says the boats will deliver whole fish to all islands at $5 a kilo and loined fish at $8 a kilo. No purse seiners will be included in the local fleet.
He also says the idea of allowing an estimated 115 international fishing boats fishing international waters to tranship fish on land at Penrhyn is still on the table.
“It will generate some $360 million revenue on top of the $46 million revenue from the local fleet and more than double current GDP.
“This is a God-sent lifeline for our dying economy and all we ask is that the Penrhyn people consider this opportunity seriously.
Fish transhipment at the hub planned for Penrhyn will average just 1.8 fishing boats calling in to tranship fish daily, Webb says.
“It shouldn’t be confused with Government’s plan for a fishing hub, which may result in several fishing boats congregating in the lagoon to be repaired on dry docks, if indeed that is Government’s plan.”
Webb says his board is disappointed politics has interfered with the planned project, adding that it wasn’t expected, given that Wilkie Rasmussen is their lawyer and that he originally supported the Merchant of Paradise’s comprehensive development plan project.
Merchant of Paradise directors who met with prime minister Henry Puna and Minister of Finance Mark Bown at a breakfast meeting to discuss opportunity funding,had agreed that the group should progress the project as a private sector activity so as not to politicise the project. This made Rasmussen’s opposition unexpected, Webb says
He wouldn’t be drawn into commenting on the political row that followed, other than confirming that Merchant of Paradise representatives and mayor Tini Ford had in fact met with the Ministry of Marine Resources.
“The mayor told the board he had seen a communication from MMR to Rasmussen. And MP Willie John confirmed to the board he had expected a communication from MMR that never arrived. This led the board to conclude that MMR accidentally sent the communication to Rasmussen.”
Asked why Tepaki had said Merchant of Paradise supported the concept of Government becoming involved in the development of Penrhyn, Webb says Tepaki supports Government engaging in “anything” that will bring in revenue to save the Cook Islands’ “struggling” economy.
“He actually supports purse seine fishing, but has conceded to a majority decision by the board not to include such fishing in the local fleet operation.”
“Tepaki conceived the CDP project on the back of the Prime Minister’s speech to the nation in 2010, when he said ‘it’s time to develop the outer islands and help our brothers and sisters’, so it’s a question of loyalty for him.”
“The board will wait and see what the people of Penrhyn has to say and will not comment further on the Penrhyn matter until then.”
Meanwhile the Merchant of Paradise board has decided to release information on the wider Cook Islands CDP project for public consumption, Webb says.
“We are doing this on a “need to know” basis, bearing in mind commercial sensitivities.”
For details about Merchant of Paradise group’s ambitious plans for the Cook Islands, see tomorrow’s Cook Islands News.