Finance minister’s remarks taken to task

Thursday January 18, 2018 Published in Letters to the Editor
The courthouse is one of the buildings that is to be “refurbished” by the Chinese government. 18011703 The courthouse is one of the buildings that is to be “refurbished” by the Chinese government. 18011703

It amazed me that Mark Brown cast what is certainly a culturally, if not racially, charged slur on two counties, New Zealand and Australia, that contribute millions in aid to the Cook Islands, and other Pacific countries (CINews, January 13).

 

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

Warning that these two “colonial masters” should watch their words in bluntly criticising Chinese aid-driven ambitions in the Pacific is unwise, uncalled-for, and carries only negative overtones for our relationship with those two countries.

The Australian Senator was quite correct in referring to “white elephant” Chinese projects. We have three of them: the police station, the court building and the stadium. No amount of talk about fixing them up now, changes the plain fact that they were duds from the start. The annual maintenance, let alone renovation, costs are beyond us. The stadium in particular, is hardly used compared to the other two. How long, I wonder, before it’s unsafe to even go inside?

The proof of “white elephant” status lies in the $10 million fix-up announced on January 16 to be paid for and no doubt carried out by the Chinese government contractor. “Refurbishment” is, I believe, code for “stop them falling down.”

From the public’s point of view the admission it will take years to complete will add to the frustration and inconvenience, and the sense we’re going backwards not forwards.

The Chinese constructed water pipeline project is a potential fourth candidate. It remain as a potential, because it’s not finished. Even though the New Zealand government contributed to the stage one cost, the Chinese contractor insisted that the New Zealand quality surveyor be sacked, and he was. From then on, the Chinese company checked, and passed its own work. The only way we’ll now know how well the underground system operates and how long it lasts, is when the water runs through the pipes. Here’s hoping.

New Zealand is the clear leader in providing aid to the Cook Islands. It gives us about $19 million a year. Australia gives us about $3 million. Sixty per cent of New Zealand’s total aid budget, goes to Pacific countries. Australia’s Pacific aid budget is about $1 billion, about half of which goes to Papua New Guinea. Both countries contribute very substantial amounts to almost all countries in our part of the Pacific.

The Chinese government is a recent arrival to the Pacific aid environment. The Lowy Institute, an Australian research organisation, says that despite their efforts, Chinese aid is so opaque and complicated it’s hard, even for them, to know what aid goes where.

I don’t think anyone should be in any doubt there are political motives behind what China does and gives away in the Pacific.

To suggest, as Mark did, that New Zealand and Australian companies benefit more than we do from their government’s aid donations, is another insult to those countries and ignores the fact we are a micro-economy with little in the way of local large project capacity. We import almost everything we consume and export little, except tourism. Even that is not a one way street, because of our infamous airline subsidy.

I think a healthy dose of scepticism is needed in government seeking out and accepting Chinese aid money, especially if it risks harming our traditional relationships with countries like New Zealand and Australia.

            Regards

            Mata McNair

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