Wilkie was completely correct about the Demo government being approached by myself in 2009 with the Cook Islands Marine Park (CIMP) concept.
I was a member of the Tourism Board and he was my Minister and the person responsible for tabling the CIMP concept to cabinet.
He is also correct in saying that the Demos did not reject the concept, but needed to do their due diligence on the matter. Around the same time, I had pitched an innovative idea to Wilkie which could potentially raise funds for the CIMP, but unfortunately for the Demo government they lost the 2010 elections and he would never get to see this idea in full. Instead, the new CIP cabinet were presented with the concept and they saw merits in it. I was then asked to pursue this idea and I have continued to do so.
Where Wilkie got his facts completely wrong was his understanding of how this financing model would work, if it ever was implemented. So for clarity, and based on Wilkie’s assumptions, here are the correct facts:
1) Wilkie stated that the Marine Park would be a “private sector initiative run by a board of prominent people (for political convenience) with little government involvement”. Wrong. There is no way that any government would give away the rights to a massive resource like the ocean to a private sector initiative. However, private sector is extremely important to any country and their involvement is important. The makeup of a newly legislated Marae Moana council reflects this – a good mix of government and non-government representation, including of course, the private sector.
2) Wilkie stated that I devised a ‘money spinner ‘and all that government would get from it was tax. Wrong.
Under this concept, 80% of the proceeds would go to a government or Marae Moana Trust fund and the other 20% back to the company to grow the concept and continue to develop innovative products to support our huge commitment to ocean conservation.
3) Wilkie stated that we would sell portions of the Marae Moana and that foreigners would “own” parts of our Marae Moana. Wrong.
The idea that I pitched to the CIP government was to sell ‘virtual space’ to online users. Not actual real estate or ocean space. This concept is a very common practice particularly for online gaming where you can by ‘virtual’ accessories and assets enhance your gaming experience. The Marae Moana concept would rely on users buying a virtual ‘Mini Marine Park’(MMP) inside Marae Moana and populating their MMP with all kinds of virtual sea life. They also need to protect this virtual space from impending dangers such as over fishing and marine pollution.
To enable the user to keep their virtual MMP in pristine condition, they must purchase various organisms, sea life and even surveillance tools such as patrol vessels. Proceeds from these purchases would go back to a government or Marae Moana trust fund and further development of the concept.
Finally, I’m happy that Wilkie finished by saying that the Marae Moana “would have been very much alive and part of the Democratic party’s list of achievements” had they continued in office.
I really enjoyed working with Wilkie and should have continued to keep him informed about the Marae Moana and how it evolved over the last 7 years through the many stakeholder meetings and workshops.
One thing he can be sure of, is that he was the first government official to endorse the Marae Moana concept.
Founder/ Co-chair of
Cook Islands Marine Park