The extra spending was revealed in the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update 2017/18, released last week.
From July to December last year, the government approved additional expenditure of $2.1m, bringing the total spent outside of the appropriated expenditure to $3.7m.
The Cook Islands constitution allows the government to overspend its budget by no more than 1.5 per cent of the total appropriation for 2017/18, which is about $273.25m. The approved excess for the 2017/18 financial year is around $4.1m.
The Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update said there have been substantial changes in expenditure since the 2017/18 Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update (HYEFU) published in December last year.
It said changes were primarily the result of additional expenditure decisions made by government, with this expenditure not taken under the Appropriation Act 2017.
Of the additional $1.6m spent, $107,000 was approved to top up the Member of Parliament (MP) travel and allowances Payment on Behalf of the Crown (POBOC) to account for MP travel that had not been budgeted for, and to clear outstanding debt this 2017/18 financial year.
This included $30,000 for health minister Nandi Glassie to attend the World Health Organisation conference in Geneva and $23,000 for the attendance of Internal Affairs minister Albert Nicholas at the International Labour Organisation conference in June this year.
A total of $54,000 was approved to settle outstanding credit card payments due to travel already taken by MPs during the 2017/18 financial year.
The update said $15,004 was approved to be added to the civil list POBOC to meet travel costs to enable finance minister Mark Brown to attend the 21st Forum Economic Ministers Meeting (FEMM) in Palau last week.
The remaining funds, it said, would be used to meet any unexpected travel costs that will arise in the remainder of the 2017/18 financial year.
The update also said $23,000 was approved to cover a shortfall in the civil list Personnel POBOC to allow parliament to carry out its functions for the remainder of the 2017/18 financial year.
“Members of Parliament are entitled to three months’ severance pay when they are replaced for various reasons. Part 2, Section 8 of the Civil List Act 2005/14 confirms this entitlement that Members of Parliament are entitled to.”
A total of $340,000 was approved in order to fulfil government’s obligation to the People’s Republic of China as established in an agreement signed between both parties in October, 2017.
The update said funds were to assist with a component of stage one of the China building repair project, which is the acquisition and preparation of land to accommodate the Chinese construction team, store building materials and also support renovation works, starting with the Bluesky Sports Arena.
A total of $400,000 was also approved for the provision of administrative funds for pharmaceuticals ($200,000) and patient referrals ($200,000).
Medicines and medical consumables use in the Cook Islands is demand-driven, and additional funds were required to enable better health outcomes and to prevent shortage of important medical supplies for the remainder of the 2017/18 financial year, the update said.
“Expenditure on patient referrals has been higher than anticipated.”
The patient referral POBOC was fully expended by December 2017.
“There had been an increase in the number of overseas stretcher cases, and due to a new policy implemented by Air New Zealand, a medical escort is required to travel with cardiology patients.”
A total of $354,000 was approved for litigation costs, details of which are withheld on the grounds of sections 18(a) and 8(2)(i) of the Official Information Act (OIA) 2008.
In order to use the 1.5 per cent allowance, approval is required from the Executive Council, comprising the Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters and members of Cabinet.Remaining expenditure
$275,000 was approved to assist with settlement of the Punanga Nui Sealing Project. The area that had been sealed is parallel to the main road, and is used very often by many vendors selling their produce from Monday right through to Saturday. This area is also the main point of entrance that most consumers use. This project has helped minimise the impact of dust in this area, which means that vendors can provide clean and fresh produce to its customers. Tourism is our main source of economic growth in the Cook Islands, the Punanga Nui market is a tourist attraction, and therefore funds should be injected into this project.
- $100,000 was approved to top up the Contingency Fund. Government provided assistance of $50,000 from this Fund to support our neighbouring countries Tonga and Samoa recover from the damage created by Cyclone Gita in early February 2017. The top up to the Contingency Fund is to ensure there is sufficient funding to cover unforeseen costs that could arise towards the end of the 2017/18 financial year.
- Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable Kiriau Turepu attended the 34th FAO regional conference for Asia and the Pacific, on the 9th to 13th of April 2018, in Fiji. $2,377 was approved to reimburse Minister Turepu’s Support Office operating budget, for travel costs that were not covered by FAO. As a result of this drawdown from the Minister’s Support Office operating budget, a decision was sought through executive council to reimburse costs that were expended from the operating budget.
Election candidate numbers increase by six
The number of candidates contesting this year’s General Election in June, has increased by six over the number who vied for seats in the 2014 elections.
This represents a rise of just over 10 per cent.
In the June 14 polls, 58 candidates from the governing Cook Islands Party (CIP), Democratic Party, One Cook Islands (OCI), Independent, Titikaveka Oire and “Alternative Must Ravenga Openga” will be competing for 24 seats.
There were 52 candidates from CIP, Demos, OCI, Independent and Titikaveka Oire contesting in the 2014 elections.
Of the 58 contesting in this year’s elections, 12 are females, representing just over 20 per cent of the total number of candidates.
This is an increase of five female candidates over the seven who contested the 2014 elections.
Of those seven, four were successfully voted into parliament.
They were long-time politician Ngamau Munokoa, Rose Brown, Tetangi Matapo and Selina Napa. All four are standing again in the hope of retaining their seats.
CIP won the last elections with 12 seats compared to the Democratic Party’s nine and OCI’s two.
The Mitiaro seat, which saw a tie between the Democratic and the CIP candidate, was eventually retained by the Democratic Party’s Tangata Vavia.
Despite winning the most seats, the CIP recorded about five per cent fewer of the total votes than those gained by the Democratic Party.
The CIP managed 3442 votes representing 40.84 per cent of the total votes cast, while the Demos managed 45.83 per cent.
OCI received 790 votes, equating to 9.37 per cent.
Meanwhile chief electoral officer Taggy Tangimetua said her office was on track to confirming polling officers and voting stations for the June 14 polls.
She said they were also looking at ironing out issues detected at the 2014 elections to ensure a smooth election this year.
“There have been requests sent from the outer islands to have someone from the head office on the respective islands for the elections, and we are looking at mobilising that as well,” Tangimetua said.