Battle over consulate future

Wednesday May 15, 2019 Written by Published in Politics

The Opposition Democratic Party has questioned the government’s motive behind plans to shift the Cook Islands Consulate Office in New Zealand to become a division of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

 

Opposition MP Tama Tuavera is also critical of the Cook Islands Party-led coalition government preparing to spend a reported $100,000 for a “so-called feasibility study” to see this plan through.

The consulate in Auckland is currently under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI).

Tuavera said they have been made aware that Cabinet discussions were underway on this issue. He added the lack of transparency “is appalling as is the plan to spend $100,000 on a feasibility study”.

“Even the government’s idea of bringing the Auckland office under the auspices of the OPM is very questionable,” Tuavera said.

The Ngatangiia MP also said the Democratic Party had been informed that the MFAI is wanting to close down the Auckland Consulate office because the cost of operations do not justify the outputs.

“If MFAI is wanting to close down the Auckland office, the ministry must have good reasons for this. What the PM needs to explain to the taxpaying public here why he thinks otherwise, what is his rationale for keeping the Consulate office open.”

An MFAI official told CI News “we’re unable to provide any comments on this issue as this need to be cleared from our HOM (head of ministry Tepaeru Herrmann) who is currently on duty travel.”

CI News understands that the Cook Islands Consulate Office currently headed by Rosie Blake was first established around the late 1970s or early 80s as a government purchasing office and to facilitate trade between New Zealand and the Cook Islands.

However the advent of internet enabling government agencies to deal directly with suppliers did away with the need to use the Auckland Consulate as a purchasing office.

The establishment of the Cook Islands High Commission in Wellington is also believed to have taken care of majority of the diplomatic responsibilities.

What trade it generates now is not known and the annual outputs of the Auckland office are not clear as well.

The annual budget for MFAI is approximately $2.1 million but the annual cost for the Consulate Office cannot be determined as this is not stated in the MFAI appropriation. However according to sources, the Consulate’s budget could be around $250,000 to $300,000 a year.

A former long serving Foreign Affairs officer says taxpayers here will undoubtedly have difficulty grappling with the justification to keep the Auckland office open, “other than to protect the jobs of two or three people employed there”.

The person, who did not wished to be named, said “… spending tens of thousands to keep a couple of people employed doesn’t make any sense at all”.

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