Two ships have been contracted to transport northern group residents, while southern group residents will be transported by Air Rarotonga.
MV Nivaga III will travel from Tuvalu and MV Tahiti Nui from Tahiti to pick up northern group passengers, while Taio Shipping Services’ Lady Moana and General Transport’s Layar Mas will transport cargo from the southern group islands.
Teams will begin arriving from July 14 from the northern islands and July 16 onwards from the southern group.
The total cost of transport for the festival, which includes a week-long cultural contest, has been budgeted at $1,778,000 – 76 per cent of the overall budget.
A notice inviting “interested parties” to submit expressions of interest for providing transport was issued by the government earlier this year, but details of final arrangements, including a breakdown of costs, have been difficult to come by.
Last month the Office of the Prime Minister said it would issue a press release detailing the transport arrangements, but later changed tack and said the information would instead be issued by the Ministry of Cultural Development.
Emailed questions to the Culture ministry as to when the release would be issued at first met with no response at all, but then CINews was told the release would be issued “later”.
Last Thursday, in response to more emailed questions, Culture secretary Anthony Turua sent CINews the names of the ships involved in the transport operation. There were no further details other than the total budgeted cost and the fact that Air Rarotonga would be involved.
Turua said a press release on the issue should properly come from the Office of the Prime Minister.
It appears government departments are being extra cautious about issuing information in light of the fact that the country is being run by a CIP caretaker government while the long wait for a definite decision on whether the CIP or the Democratic Party will win, the election continues. Taking into account petitions, Cook Islands residents may have to wait more than two months before learning the final outcome.
A row over the cost of staging Te Maeva Nui broke out last week when it was revealed that the $3 million cost of the celebrations was more than four times the amount set out in the 2017/2018 Cook Islands Government Budget Estimates document.
This amount was only revealed after discussions were held between the current caretaker government and the opposition Democratic Party regarding expenditure authority for continued spending until a new government is formed.
A subsequent press release from the Office of the Prime Minister attracted the ire of Democratic Party finance spokesman James Beer, who questioned the timing and focus of the higher than usual Te Maeva Nui spending. However, he told CINews it was “hard to say” what the Demo Party would consider a more acceptable figure, due to the absence of information from the government.
Finance minister Mark Brown said a high proportion of the total cost was being spent on the charter of the two ferry vessels that will be used to transport our northern groups to Rarotonga, and airfares for southern group participants.
“I believe the Demos were of the view that they could have chartered cheaper vessels – I’m not sure from where – and also they thought to cut the number of participants from the outer islands,” said Brown.
He added that celebrations have been in the pipeline for a year and islands have already prepared for their contingents. To cut numbers at this late stage was not an option, Brown said.
Te Maeva Nui transport has always been controversial and in 2015, when the country celebrated 50 years of self-government in association with New Zealand, the issue became particularly complicated.
A huge row erupted on Rarotonga when the government gave Pacific Schooners Ltd, operators of the Tiare Taporo, a $200,000 advance and a contract to deliver festival participants from the northern islands back to their homes.
The ship, which at that stage was on its delivery voyage from Canada, broke down and was moored in the Panama Canal for some weeks. It turned up months too late to do the job.
That year, dancers from Pukapuka, Palmerston and Nassau were transported on Samoa Shipping Corporation’s Lady Naomi, which then headed back up to Penrhyn and Rakahanga.
Forty-eight passengers from Palmerston arrived aboard the chartered PB Matua, while Manihiki participants were transported on the vessel Tahiti Nui. Air France aircraft also picked up elderly passengers on Penrhyn and Manihiki.
Further complicating the operation, an Air France aircraft flew to Atiu and Mitiaro on July 9 and Mauke and Mangaia on July 10, before returning to Mangaia to pick up the rest of the team on July 11, 2015.
The Aitutaki team flew to Rarotonga on Air Rarotonga.
This year’s Te Maeva Nui celebrations will begin on Friday, July 27, with an official opening ceremony and the traditional annual float parade.