Beautification and the beast

Thursday March 05, 2020 Written by Published in Outer Islands
With husbands and wives both losing their incomes and unable to pay the bills, they fear they will be forced to leave Pukapuka.20030413 With husbands and wives both losing their incomes and unable to pay the bills, they fear they will be forced to leave Pukapuka.20030413

The monster of widespread unemployment looms over the northern island of Pukapuka, with 19 government workers sent home from work. 

Thirteen more government workers on the island of Pukapuka have been told they’re out of a job, creating worry and uncertainty for families on the island.

Seven workers on the island’s beautification programme says they signed in their hours, only to discover they weren’t being paid and were being taken off the roster; another six say they were abruptly told without warning not to bother going back to work.

Last night, after inquiries from Cook Islands News, they were given a sliver of hope: Ravarua said the 13 workers would be put back on the roster.

He told one woman, who complained of not being paid, that she shouldn’t have gone to work in the first place: “You were already suspended,” he said.

With a population of 439 people, 19 residents have now been sent home from their jobs since January.

In January, four men’s jobs were terminated and two were suspended from their civil jobs, after being told by island executive officer Pio Ravarua that their performance wasn’t up to scratch.

Then over the past two weeks, another 13 were told there was no more work for them. From the village of Roto, Annie William, Tautani Teopenga and Mumuka Teopenga said they were not paid for hours worked on February 3 to 7.

Annie William is angry. She had asked Ravarua why, but said he couldn’t give her a good reason. “I went to work, signed in and did my job,” said William. “Kare au e tutaki iake.” (I still haven’t been paid).

“Kia tutaki ia matou, e angaanga neneve teia.” (We should be paid, this is just wrong and silly).

“It’s all about politics,” she said, noting that last month her husband Tere was suspended; now the whole family was out or work and had no money.

Mumuka Teopenga confirmed she didn’t receive her money either.

“We just want our pay, we are here to look after the land, to look after our island, look at what’s happening now – it’s sad and selfish,” said Teopenga.

She also worries for the younger ones and says this will encourage more to leave the island and not return.

She signed: “Nineteen people are now affected by one man’s decision, will we leave our beautiful island?”

Other workers unpaid for days worked in January are from the village of Yato: Toreta Vave, Rotoika Tengere, Veuku Luka and Christopher Puiki.

Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas said the executive officer on the Pa Enua was fully responsible for the management of both the island budget and all government employees.

He had not received official reports on the 13 new complaints, he said.


The facts: The Pukapuka project

Pa Enua beautification is funded by the Cook Islands Government. Each island manages the workers and the fund.

For Pukapuka the beautification programme is based on the rotating system.

Pukapuka has three main villages and the rotating system is rostered between people from the three villages – Roto, Yato and Ngake – with two councillors elected from each village.

However, for some years now, the people have been living in “Tawas”  – two main factions where half of the Roto people have become part of Tawa Ngake and the others part of Tawa Lalo – this means the Roto village people have been split into the two Tawas.

The people were split by the aronga mana as the population then was dwindling. Now the island is under Tawa rule and in this system, there is no island council but they are considered as aronga mana.

When the councillors meet, they report to the Tawa, but if there is the need for clean-up, then it is the responsibility of each of village island council to choose workers for the week on a rotational basis.

This remains today and is needed to maintain and sustain the environment and culture.

From the time a person leaves school and is made “akawawine” or “akatane” by the tawa they belong to, they work on the beautification programme. Everyone on the island then gets a chance to earn an income.

The island councillors from the three villages provide a list of workers to the executive officer to clean the main thoroughfare of each village.

This system has worked beautifully until up to the beginning of this year. Then Pio Ravarua sacked or suspended six workers, accusing them of political agendas and other failings. All six were Democratic Party supporters.

Council members are: Tawalalo Tokotoko - chairman Woetai, secretary Kapena Hagai, Island Councillor Yato - Lito Tinokura, Vakaua Ayi. Loto - Teopenga Jnr Teopenga, Mukomuko Ataera. Ngake - Pereo Nimeti, Tearo Tinomana. Aronga Mana - The Mataiapos - Yato - Varia Marukore. Tai Ravarua. Rimapeni Paani. Pio Ravarua. Tokotoko title - Ngake - Tutau Punga. The Ariki of Pukapuka - Tetio Pakitonga Ariki.

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