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Norman George: The shakedown of self-governance

Monday August 19, 2019 Written by Published in Opinion
Norman George. Norman George.

At the beginning of self-government the New Zealand High Commissioner was the acting Head of State. He assented to all Acts of the Legislature Assembly when passed. He was privy to all Cabinet papers and chaired all the Executive Council meetings.

No wonder Muldoon was displeased whenever Premier Albert Henry asked for more budgetary aid support. Based on what he learned of Cook Islands government spending from the Cabinet minutes, he would have been disgusted with how the New Zealand tax-payer’s money was being spent.  

In 1981, Constitutional Amendment Act No.9 was introduced by the Demo government. Sweeping changes were made. The brains trust behind it was Cook Islands lawyers (ministers) Vincent Ingram and Iaveta Short.

The actual drafting of the law was conducted by Paul Temm QC who later became a New Zealand Judge.

The Queen as Head of State was represented by the Queen’s Representative, a new position. The NZ High Commissioner was no longer the acting Head of State.

The House of Ariki was officially recognised by the Constitution.

The Premier became the Prime Minister. The Legislative Assembly became the Parliament. The Legislative Assembly members became Members of Parliament (MPs).

New Electoral boundaries were set up. Instead of three Vaka constituencies on the island of Rarotonga, nine individual electorates in Rarotonga were set up, later another one was added to make it 10.

Aitutaki was given three electorates, Mangaia three, Atiu two and the rest of the outer-islands, one electorate each.

New Zealand’s ability to pass laws on behalf of the Cook Islands was removed, and all New Zealand laws passed after 1980-81 could not apply to the Cook Islands.

The Judicial system was defined and divided into three divisions: criminal, civil and land. The appointment of JPs and Judges was defined. Under Article 53(2) a Cook Islander living in the Cook Islands cannot be considered for judgeship despite meeting all the qualifications.

This provision appears to be heavily rusted and in need of change. The position of Chief Justice and Attorney General was confirmed.

Cabinet Minister appointments and Cabinet procedures were set up as part of the executive branch of the government. The reforms included new laws set up for criminal and civil procedures.

A NZ High Commission was set up in the Cook Islands and later our own High Commission was established in Wellington.

We also had a Consular Office in Auckland. It began as a Trade Commission under the Albert Henry government, then upgraded to consular status when the Demos came to power.

The turnover tax was introduced by Papa Tom. It applied to all goods and services. It was a form of sales tax, 10 per cent was charged on top of what you sold or the hourly rate you charged.

New Zealand later copied it to become value added tax. So, we changed the title to VAT.

Our first Queen’s Representative was Sir Gavin Donne, who was the retiring Chief Justice of the Cook Islands. Sir Gavin did a magnificent job to rationalize and calm things down in an orderly fashion. On 30 March 1983 and November 2 1983, we had two general elections about six months apart.

Let me say this quite clearly and firmly, Sir Gavin Donne laid the precedent and foundation on how to handle a government which loses its majority.

First, as stated by the Constitution, the QR accepts the resignation of the standing Prime Minister. It may not be voluntary! Then the QR invites the Leader of the Opposition to form a government and call Parliament for a confidence vote. When that fails, the QR dissolves Parliament and calls for a fresh general election.

This procedure is clear as night and day. What does our current QR and his predecessor do? Ignore the precedent and refuse to follow it, choosing instead to prop up their political parties both Demos and CIPs.

Don’t ever criticize us not starting off with a Cook Islander as QR. Imagine the chaos to follow….as proven!

Our next Chief Justice was Sir Graeme Speight, a highly experienced New Zealand Judge and long-time Crown prosecutor. He was a giant of a man physically and very pleasant to work with.

Papa Tom introduced the “cost of living adjustments” as an economic measure every six months. This involves an actuarial review of the cost of living index, price and cost fluctuations, inflation and other factors to keep wages and salaries up with rising prices.

This regularly strengthened the economy with people’s spending power adjusted thereby increasing their spending power.

Unfortunately, the CIP government did away with this when they came into power.

If the cost of living adjustments were continued, our average workers would be on $10 per hour by now. I would love to see the cost of living adjustments brought back as a beacon on the economy.

There was much dissent and criticism about MPs pension fund in the early 1980s. MPs were drawing pensions at rates well above what some workers were getting. Because the former MPs collecting the funds did not contribute to the pension scheme, it started to bite into the government’s budget.

A Parliamentary Select Committee was appointed and chaired by myself. We held meetings around all the Vakas in Rarotonga and the southern group outer islands.

The result was to pass the National Superannuation Act for all Cook Islanders, including MPs. The MPs pension scheme was cancelled. Now our National Superannuation Scheme is worth close to $200 million and growing!

Our Parliamentary sittings averaged about 30 to 40 days a year. We felt obligated to call Parliament to report and account to the people. The feelings of not having Parliament in our time was like a regular churchgoer missing out on going to church on Sundays.

Today’s practice of 11 day sitting days a year is unconscionable, deliberate and disgraceful! Live with your conscience Henry and Mark, especially when you are no longer holding the jobs you now have.

The Demos introduced the office of Ombudsman which remains functioning today.

I was appointed Minister of External Affairs and Trade in 1984. During my tenure I carried out many reforms and restructuring. We shifted trade away to the Ministry of Trade at the time, and we became the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I was assisted by Jon Jonassen who I found to be an outstanding administrator. I am delighted to see this ministry grow and prosper. I cannot fail to observe that this ministry had an anniversary celebration dinner some two weeks ago. All former High Commissioners were invited, except the founding Minister. Aue taue!

Keep up the trend of ignoring former cabinet ministers who are the real nation builders government ministries!  

Henry and Mark, your time will come. What you sew, you shall reap! Kua rava teia, Ka kite.





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