Ponia took up his post on Friday with an official introduction by the prime minister Henry Puna to all his staff.
As Chief of Staff, Ponia is optimistic that as a nation we are gifted with talent, resources, and opportunity. He wanted to continue his association with the Cook Islands government as Chief of Staff, Office of the Prime Minister, because he strongly believes in its mission, and in his abilities to serve. He welcomes the challenge of working with dedicated staff, Government Agencies, local communities (particularly in the Pa Enua), international partners and the private sector. He believes that we have an obligation to build on past efforts to ensure for the sake of our future generations, that we sustainably explore our nation’s potential.
Ponia will be overseeing the OPM, which as a central agency, its key role has been to provide excellent service in the following areas; (renewable energy, ICT, Emergency management, Climate Change policies) to our government, while at the same time ensuring that it provides reasoned strategic advice that advances our whole country. It has delivered on, core government functions for the public sector, and on a number of significant sustainable environmental projects. These projects will have a long-lasting impact on the future of the Cook Islands and as such, OPM has undertaken their role as custodians and stewards seriously for our islands, oceans, culture and heritage. Ponia’s experience in the marine sector will be invaluable in guiding the full implementation of Te Marae Moana. Ponia’s experience in spending his formative years with the Ministry of Marine Resources working in the Pa Enua will bode him well, given that Pa Enua island governments are supported by the OPM.
In 2000, Ponia joined the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in New Caledonia as a Manager in the Marine Division where he successfully developed, and led a Regional Programme for Aquaculture for 10 years. He has worked with many Pacific Islands in developing Government policies, local capacity and small business enterprises. He has conducted country missions throughout the Pacific and fostered regional partnerships with development agencies and donors. He has also strengthened the Asia-Pacific network, travelling extensively through Asia and in particular China as it emerged as an economic powerhouse.
Despite the prospect for a successful career with SPC, he decided to take up the then vacant post of Secretary of the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) in 2010. Under his leadership, Ponia was able to realise the potential of the sector, and in particular, the sustainable utilisation of a large untapped tuna fishery, which entailed a sharp learning curve. The MMR has been successful in deriving large amounts of revenue from the fishery collecting up to $19 million per annum.
At MMR, he championed the issue of livelihoods and household food security, and addressing depopulation in the Pa Enua by channelling support towards local fishermen and small-scale development. He has also led MMR to become a leader in the region in terms of compliance and management through sophisticated fisheries surveillance operations, and the provision of scientific data.
Ponia has a public service career spanning 18 years. He holds a Master of Science degree from James Cook University in Australia, has a graduate fellowship from East West Center in Hawaii and is currently enrolled in a PhD with at the School of Law in the University of Wollongong in Australia, looking at the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and its implications for Small Island States.
The Office of the Public Service Commissioner is confident that under his tenure as Chief of Staff, Ponia will be able to ensure that the Office of the Prime Minister will deliver on major national development projects that will allow the Cook Islands to achieve our national vision as articulated in the National Sustainable Development Plan – “To enjoy the highest quality of life consistent with the aspirations of our people, and in harmony with our culture and environment”.