Payment of MPs’ allowance: You be the judge

Monday June 22, 2020 Written by Published in Politics
Terepai Maoate Jr in Parliament last week. Terepai Maoate Jr in Parliament last week. 20061811

Parliament last night passed a motion criticising Cook Islands News’ report, “MPs seek allowance top-ups in downturn”. So are they right to be unhappy about the news report – or are they shooting the messenger?

1. The Demos say the article was misleading in that it implied their MP Terepai Maoate Jnr and leader Tina Browne were seeking a new travel allowance.

Right at the start, the article says Maoate was seeking the payment of an allowance that was “already appropriated”. There is no suggestion it was a new or additional allowance – though critics on social media said the MPs’ timing was poor when others in Cook Islands were being asked to tighten their belts.

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2. Prime Minister Henry Puna says the article reflects poorly on all MPs.

The article attributes the Parliamentary questions to MPs Maoate and Browne, and quotes Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown’s response. Nowhere does it suggest their views were reflective of all MPs.

3. The Demos say they weren’t seeking the payment of the spousal travel allowance – just clarifying whether it should be paid.

Official recordings of Parliament simply don’t support the Demos’ interpretation. Twice, Maoate puts his case for payment of the spousal travel allowance. “We only asking small amounts of funds to help us,” he says. “My request to the Minister concerned is, please if you can look into this, it’s already appropriated or established system from 2019. Their answer should be clear for us to clarify whether we have entitlement to this fund.”

4. Deputy Speaker Tai Tura says the reporting was inaccurate and suggests MPs should get these reporters “out of Parliament”. 

Even if there was a mistake in the article (and the paper says there isn’t) the newspaper’s editor Jonathan Milne says it would be utterly wrong to seize on that as an opportunity to overturn a fundamental democratic right: the freedom of the media to report on Parliament.

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