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‘State visit’ well worth cost - Brown

Thursday April 12, 2018 Written by Published in Politics
Prime minister Henry Puna, health minister Nandi Glassie, internal aff airs minister Albert Nicholas and fi nance minister Mark Brown pose for a photo with their New Zealand hosts in Wellington last week. PHOTO: MFAI. 18041115 Prime minister Henry Puna, health minister Nandi Glassie, internal aff airs minister Albert Nicholas and fi nance minister Mark Brown pose for a photo with their New Zealand hosts in Wellington last week. PHOTO: MFAI. 18041115

Finance minister Mark Brown says the cost of last week’s state visit to New Zealand was justified by the benefits it will produce for the Cook Islands people.

 

The 10-strong delegation which visited New Zealand last week was led by prime minister Henry Puna and included Brown, health minister Nandi Glassie and internal affairs minister Albert Nicholas. The cost was around $2500 per person, Brown said.

The prime minister’s costs and those of Office of the Prime Minister chief of staff Bredina Drollet and foreign affairs secretary Tepaeru Herrmann, were met by the New Zealand government.

At a press conference on Monday,  the PM said that sometimes cost could be “a distraction”, and he was happy the delegates had been able to go on the mission.

Brown, added that “part of the job” was to travel, and in this case, the outcomes had more than exceeded the expense.

“For me it’s not so much the cost of the trip, it’s the outcomes, which are in the hundreds of thousands in dollars of benefits to the Cook Islands people, through this engagement with the New Zealand government,” Brown said.

One major benefit was that Cabinet ministers had been able to address specific issues with their New Zealand counterparts he said.

Glassie had been able to discuss Cook Islands access to pharmaceuticals through Pharmac, a New Zealand government-based company, Brown said.

“It has been a difficult process for us to actually access that supply, and we were looking at ways and means (through) which we could apply.”

The Cook Islands health ministry could either register with Pharmac as a purchaser, or they could purchase pharmaceuticals through a district health board in New Zealand, Brown said.

As the Cook Islands bought around $600,000 worth of pharmaceuticals a year, the health ministry was enticed by the buying power of Pharmac, he added.

“It would provide better prices for pharmaceuticals and a more consistent supply, because it’s closer. It would also give access to certain drugs that we cannot get outside of Pharmac.”

The prime minister, in his capacity as the education minister, spoke with his New Zealand counterpart Chris Hipkins about the estimated 240 people in the Cook Islands who have New Zealand education loans.

They discussed ways Cook Islands residents could service their loans through an easier mechanism.

One option discussed involved the New Zealand Inland Revenue Department opening a domestic bank account which could receive payments.

Another alternative was creating a financing account in the Cook Islands, which Brown said would make it easier for the owing students to make payments, Puna said.

Nicholas was involved with discussions on pension portability, and was also there when the bill was presented to parliament in Wellington, Brown said.

“That was terrific because the chair of parliament at the time was the deputy speaker, Cook Islander Poto Williams. All very poignant in that particular time,” Brown said.

The delegation also discussed the controversial abatement of the New Zeland pension against the CI Superannuation.

The New Zealand social development ministry believed the Cook Islands National Superannuation Fund (CINSF) was government-funded and that whatever was collected from the CINSF should be deducted from the New Zealand Superannuation Fund (NZSF), Brown said.

However, Puna and Brown argued that the CINSF was not a government fund, but rather a contributor’s fund involving employers and employees.

“If it requires some amendments to legislation to clarify that, then that is what we’ll do. But it’s at the discussion point now, and we’re hoping to find a resolution,” Puna said.

The PM said the New Zealand government had suggested the next Joint Ministerial Forum be held on Aitutaki next year.

In the meantime, he added, the government would continue to discuss various issues with their New Zealand counterparts.

“I’m actually very comfortable with where we are now, especially with deputy prime minister Winston Peters, who chaired the Joint Ministerial Forum, putting timeframes on his officials to have those issues addressed and achieved,” Puna said.