Editorial: Ssh, do you want to know a secret?

Thursday October 10, 2019 Written by Published in Opinion

Journalists aren’t well-known for keeping secrets. We tend to demand disclosure and transparency of our leaders.

So we understand it looks somewhat hypocritical when we say to finance minister Mark Brown – did you really want to front up and tell us about that $55 million government surplus?

I mean, of course, he and his officials at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management have to publish the end-of-year accounts – I’d be castigating them in this editorial column if they didn’t!

But by gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep this surplus quiet?

Because right now, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern may well be sitting in her office in Wellington, scratching her head. So too Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing, if he doesn’t have more important things to do, governing 1.4 billion people.

They may be asking: why exactly are we giving development aid to a small Pacific Islands nation that doesn’t seem to need it?

Whose tax and licensing revenues from tourism and fisheries are such that it can give MPs a 45 per cent pay rise and repaint the white lines on its roads and buy a new CT scanner for Rarotonga Hospital and still have $55 million in small change left rattling round the bottom of Mark Brown’s wallet?

In announcing the surplus to Cook Islands News yesterday, Brown indicated that some of this windfall would go to health and education and sealed airstrips in the outer islands.

He also held out the tantalising prospect of tax cuts, by promising to commission an income tax review. And so he should.

But what he should also be doing  – ssh, quietly – is having a word with the Cooks’ biggest aid donors.

Because Ardern and Li and a few others might now be asking why they have to stump up to build pipelines and solar panel arrays for a country now classified by the OECD as “high income”.

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