Master carver Mike Tavioni has created a proposal to get about 15,000 Cook Islanders to invest $1000 each for an equal share in the telecommunications company.
“Let the people benefit from the development of their own country and the assets that belong to them. As I understand it, the Government’s share is worth about $15.2 million. I am saying, let us buy the Government’s share of 40 per cent; not only us in the Cook Islands but also our people in New Zealand, Australia and other places in the world.”
He believes the proposal is realistic and completely achievable - if people unite.
“It’s not a dream. I believe we’ll have more than 15,000 people interested. I’m trying to show people we can achieve things if we work together.”
Tavioni said he not anti-Government but he is afraid the Government will end up selling its 40 per cent shareholding to a foreign company.
Before that happens, Cook Islanders should take the initiative and make an offer.
“That’s if Government allows it to be bought. It should do because it’s the people who intend to buy it. If we’re not allowed, what’s the purpose of having development in the country?”
He said if enough people make a fuss, Government will accommodate “because that’s their job”.
“We have to show we are united and we have the numbers to buy it. If they want the people to have more faith in them, they should allow the people to invest in the development of this country.”
Tavioni said holding a share of the company would give Cook Islanders a long-term source of dividends, especially given Digicel is likely to become the major shareholder.
“Digicel, with its experience, will ensure the business profits. We should have a share of that profit.”
His vision is for investors to have an equal number of shares and equal rights so no-one can dominate.
He proposes having five people to represent the shareholders – three from the Cook Islands, and one each from New Zealand and Australia.
“Once or twice a year, those people come back here to discuss. They’re just there to ensure Digicel is doing the right thing.”
He said investing in Telecom is just the first step; his real dream is to see Cook Islands go on to invest in the fishing industry and other assets.
“If we manage to get $15 million for Telecom, can’t we get $1 million for a fishing boat? I want our people to get involved. They have given up but I don’t give up.”
He said the country has suffered from continuous outward migration since the mid 1990s, because people cannot make a decent living.
“Our people are leaving because they no longer believe they can give their children a better chance in life if they stay here. If we don’t do something like this the flow of our people will continue.”
He points to the success of the Punanga Nui, which came from the people, for the people.
“Money from that market goes directly into the hands of the people. Buying the Telecom shares will do the same. It will be an additional benefit of our people earning something from our assets.”