Henry Puna’s chief of staff Ben Ponia yesterday issued a lengthy and strongly-worded statement defending his position, after international reports that he had sacked her for her “emotional” opposition to seabed mining.
“Various parties appear to be milking this situation to insinuate that this was a spiteful and unprofessional act on my part or as acting as an agent of government.”
Evans was regularly at odds with others in government, he said. “This is a fatal flaw if you are supposed to coordinate policy amongst government agencies and be a lynchpin for their work programmes.”
He added: “The vague 10 year seabed moratorium is widely viewed by government ministers and officials as nonsensical and undermining of the Cook Island’s efforts since the 1970s to seek out the necessary science to determine if and how sea mining would proceed.”
Ponia disputed the award-winning environmental champion’s statements that she was sacked.
After Evan’s one-year contract expired in November last year, the job was advertised twice, before Ponia decided not to renew her contract.
Government’s position was that the fact the moratorium was not included in the Pacific Islands Forum Communique or the Sautalaga Statement demonstrated that the threshold for regional agreement on the issue had not been met.
The Cook Islands has one of the few oceans in the world with minable concentrations of cobalt rich nodules, having 12 billion tonnes with a paper value of around $10 trillion dollars.
Government had discussed cobalt as being a strategic metal used to power the electric batteries that can substitute dependency on fossil fuels which is the scourge of climate change and ocean acidification.
Ponia said he would however like to thank the former Marae Moana coordinator.
“Jacqui has brought her own version of passion, expertise and energy into this role. Moving forward, I hope we can continue to work together to deliver on the promises of Marae Moana.
“The Cook Islands is a small community and we must find commonality amongst different approaches because ultimately we are all seeking the same outcome for our children’s future.”
Last night, Evans told Cook Islands News she was the sole applicant for the job both times it was advertised.
“It’s true that we had a different approach. That was the reason given to me for hesitating to renew my contract all that time,” she said.
“The suggestion I made about supporting the 10-year moratorium was the last point of disagreement. This was immediately followed by them informing me of their decision not to renew my contract.
“My approach is to consult groups and the public more widely and openly. This ensures we bring the people with us when making decisions about our ocean.
“This not only builds trust in the government but ensures that the way we manage the ocean truely reflects the views of the people. This is how Marae Moana policy has been developed.
“It’s ironic to say that I demonstrated a certain naivety on how to approach policy issues with common sense and a government perspective.
“One of the things I learnt about our communities during the 2013/14 Marae Moana consultations was just how much common sense they had.
“I believe as Cook Islanders sent to university on scholarship we must share that knowledge with our people when we come home. And after that the government’s perspective must always reflect the people’s perspective.”