It’s a sobering read – Iaveta Short’s book ‘False Start in Paradise’.
The title is apt in fact a few other words came to mind as I read his book chapter after chapter like waiting for the happy ending of a Greek tragedy or Shakespeare’s sorry tale of King Lear who declared “When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools”.
For every lofty height our beautiful country has found itself in, the fall from grace one after the other has been public, costly and fraught with the egos of those whose responsibility was to serve, but in time became simply self-serving.
Iaveta’s account of our leaders and their great achievements as well as their challenges personal and political, gives light to a thesis I read by David Stone called ‘Rise of the Cook Islands Party’, written in 1971.
It pointed to two clear and definite warnings on the path we had taken and the party politics we had chosen in 1965.
Stone warned that this style of politics in such a small population would have two devastating and long-lasting negative effects.
Firstly, he warned that it would split our country in two, with party loyalties being the dividing line.
Nothing has caused as much division and heartache as the split along party lines and the favours and favouritism and nepotism from both political parties, this divide has created and maintained.
Never before have we suffered so much divide and conquer and one has to wonder whether our colonial masters and advisers at the time, saw this also and knew that a house divided, would never reach its potential and prosper, leaving the financial and resource spoils of our new democracy for foreign investors to grab and monopolise.
And again, Iaveta’s book highlights this when he said: “The two party first past the post winner takes all system was divisive and concentrated power for a small number of people” – capturing the second warning from Stone on our new democracy. That, this division would create a political elite and that certain families, would run our country, that they would see this as their right and that this would be passed on from one family member to the next, one generation to the next generation.
The onerous question is not for the few political leaders that have made these decisions, but to the voters. Because it is them that have allowed generations of our people to be robbed of their potential, their future and aspirations and to look elsewhere to see these dreams realised.
All this while we continue to not hold these decisions to account and continue to vote in and empower those that make these same decisions and will continue to because they are enabled and empowered by a system that allows it and voters that endorse it.
My question is despite the cry for political reform since 1998, which included 62 consultations and at every level and sector of Cook Islands society, a little has changed if anything at all.
The reason why, is clear, because mistakenly we have asked those that benefit from the system to change it. And quite frankly why would they, considering the power and benefit it enables the few.
Twenty-two years after the political reform review, maybe the question should now be directed to those that can actually bring change, Cook Islands voters, because it is them that have the power and potential appetite for change. The change for constitutional reform, for political change and the challenge before us to rectify this archaic Crimes Act and give our people the right to be who they are without fear of incarceration or criminal conviction.
No one owns a political seat or is entitled to it that much should be clear and they will either vacate it by a voters’ decision or because God has called them home.
It is therefore not political reform that we need but voter reform, voter change and voters to check their expectations of what they want, how we manage our people and our resources and what voters are prepared to pay for that – because everything comes at a price.
True systemic change will and can happen if we are prepared to pay the price as another generation of students leave school to join the workforce and pay the price for the good and bad decisions made before them.
The power is in our hands, it always has been, we were just looking to the wrong people to change a system they have worked hard to preserve and to stay the same.