Jonathan Milne: Sweat equity counts for little

Saturday February 29, 2020 Written by Published in Editorials
Mark Serito’s partner and young son are waiting for him in Raro. 20022725 Mark Serito’s partner and young son are waiting for him in Raro. 20022725

OPINION: I know Rarotonga designer Mark Serito. He works long hours, tough hours, to support his partner and young son.

That’s no different from many, many people on these islands. As is so often said, Cook Islands has a lot of ducks paddling frantically below the surface, to maintain the placid idyll that greets tourists gazing across our lagoons.

Mark also keeps his calm. Even under stress, he keeps smiling.

And that’s what he did yesterday, when his 10-hour flight from the Philippines landed in Auckland – only to discover that while he was in the air, Cook Islands had banned anyone who’d been to the Philippines from travelling to Rarotonga.

He couldn’t stay and self-quarantine in New Zealand – he had only a transit visa. He was told he had to return to Manila.

Fortunately for Mark, he has decent employers, Fletcher and Vaea Melvin, who agreed to pay the fares for him and his Filipino workmate. To be blunt, that’s a bill that should have been picked up by Cook Islands government, which changed the rules mid-flight.

I know most of our readers will be sympathetic to government taking tough measures to protect our island paradise from potentially devastating coronavirus.

All we should ask is that those rules be decided fairly and transparently. Why, for instance, is there a travel ban on the Philippines, which has had only three cases, the last one nearly a month ago?

Yet there is no ban on New Zealand which reported a new case just yesterday? Or Australia, which has 25 confirmed cases? There are no plans to turn away a cruise ship that arrives at Rarotonga tomorrow with a large number of passengers from Italy – a country that has 400 Covid-19 cases and 21 deaths.

We know the answer, of course. This decision is not purely about the health of our people. It is about economics. To shut down travel from New Zealand and Australia would utterly devastate our economy. Whereas Asian nations supply less than 1 per cent of our tourists

Mark Serito and his fellow Filipino workers? They don’t have much in the way of cold hard cash. All they have is the sweat equity they have invested in this nation for years.

It seems that doesn’t count for much, when it comes time to make the tough decisions.

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