And a Cook Islander holidaying on Rarotonga says she witnessed Culture Secretary Anthony Turua and Culture Minister George Maggie visiting the Penrhyn hostel and telling occupants “this is it”, and that they had to board the Nivaga III.
The incident has raised concerns over the wellbeing of some of the Penrhyn residents who travelled to Rarotonga for this month’s Te Maeva Nui celebrations, which began on July 27.
Matha Soatini, who has family links with Penrhyn but was here on holiday from Australia, told CINews of her concerns after observing living conditions at the Penrhyn hostel over a two-week period.
“We had members of our Penrhyn community who were unwell, including a couple of children who were in hospital last week. They were told they had to leave on the Nivaga III – they had no other choice.
“Anthony (Turua, Culture Secretary) and George Maggie (Culture Minister) came in and told everyone this was ‘it’.”
“I felt very frustrated and angry that our people were being treated as second-class citizens and were just an afterthought to those in charge.”
Soatini said the best way for the ill people to be taken home would have been on a chartered flight, which would have taken three hours.
“We had something similar in 2015 when a Hercules (aircraft) came in and took a number of us home. I am not sure why they couldn’t have organised that again. We seemed to be an afterthought behind a number of islands.
“It seems that the higher up your island MP is, the quicker you get to go home. And you also get to take more cargo back with you. Manihiki, of course, gets treated very well because of the prime minister being from Manihiki.
“I am just so saddened by this and felt I needed to speak out so that this cannot happen in the future. They (the northern islands residents) travelled here to celebrate our Constitution Day and our Cook Islands culture, but as soon as it is finished, we become invisible to those up the top.”
Meanwhile, CINews understands a number of Penrhyn Islanders have in fact remained on Rarotonga for health reasons, opting not to travel on the Nivaga III.
CINews contacted Turua earlier this week and asked if it was true that a number of people had refused to leave on the ship.
“I have been verbally conversed of the matter but nothing in writing,” was his response. “If it is health reasons, I will leave the matter with the Ministry of Health.”
Turua was then asked if some of the visitors were in fact still on Rarotonga because of health problems and if so, why alternative transport had not been arranged for them. His reply: “Again, I have not been advised on this matter.”
Also asked to comment, Ministry of Health secretary Dr Aumea Josephine Hermann said she was not aware of the situation.
“I would need names to verify this,” she added.
Before Te Maeva Nui began, deputy prime minister Mark Brown told CINews of the government’s commitment to providing transport for festival participants from the pa enua.
“From the government perspective, we made it very clear a year ago that we are committed to chartering the vessels that we have used in previous years to bring our people to Rarotonga in safety and in comfort.
“The government believes we should give our people the best.”