Letters: The state of politics in the Cook Islands

Thursday October 10, 2019 Published in Letters to the Editor
Te Tuhi Kelly. 16022921 Te Tuhi Kelly. 16022921

Dear editor,

Having lived and married a local, and settled in the Cook Islands for almost 10 years now, I have gained an appreciation of the state of our nation and the inherent challenges we face going forward through a large network of friends, family, local community leaders, public servants, politicians, youth, Christians, foreign workers, social media, local news media, and whistle-blowers and of course my first-hand experience and the experience of others at the hands of some despicable employers here in the Cooks.


They tell me of their concerns regarding what the future may bring for us and unfortunately, I have to say that despite all the rhetoric about how prosperous we are, how we lead our Pacific cousins and how well we are doing, we seem not to be where we could be.

The state of the political system has raised much concern publicly as the talk on the street is that the system is based on coercion, favours, gratuitous offerings and benefits and familial relationships and the focus on self.

If you disagree with my observations then you tell me why people in our communities are telling me that they are fed up with the current political parties, the at times headless chicken and arrogant approach to consultation, Te Mato Vai/To Tatou Vai debacle, the employment of non-performing political hacks and their retention despite serious misgivings, and the continuing proliferation of party political favours.

The disregard for common law by some politicians, the continuing poor state of our roads and the increasing negative impact tourism is having on housing and accommodation and infrastructure at the expense of visitors, locals and returning locals’ housing needs.

The deep sea minerals mining debate, the almost total reliance on tourism and related activities, environmental impacts and especially sewage disposal and leachate into the lagoon and the seeming inability to keep our youth from leaving in droves are impacting.

The apparent disregard for our cultural renaissance and the lip service paid to tikaanga, reo, our Ui Ariki and creating living breathing cultural activities in the education system that runs second or even third to the New Zealand-focused education of our youth, because we are building the capacity of Australia and New Zealand businesses through the local education and export of our youth as cannon fodder for those countries’ economic prosperity.

We continue to turn a blind eye and completely disregard the proper treatment of foreign workers, and what is even worse we are sending some poorly educated and mostly inarticulate politicians on overseas conferences on behalf of government, by government and as the voice of government.

This has the effect of embarrassing the officials who have to prop up these people, whose speeches are in most cases ghost-written by their officials and behind closed doors, having other foreign officials refer to us as a banana republic.

Our agricultural export focus is languishing with too many disparate growers and associations, self-serving priorities, a focus on the local market and little focus on motivational activities or incentives to entice our youth back onto the land. There is a heavy reliance on pest control chemicals and methods and fertiliser applications based on artificial means and not enough thought gone into cooperative seasonal planting or planting of old.

The effect is that it can be at times a feast or a famine to get the right produce at the right time to market. Our Pa Enua is not being given enough priority or focus over the years as regards access to sufficient and affordable finance for growers. Freight charges and cargo costs are prohibitive and we have a local airline monopoly and a telecommunications monopoly.

Don’t even think about how we expect to pay for accessing the new international undersea cable when it arrives given the smallness of our user base. And oh yes, what’s happened to our fishing licences income, and how is that going for us, I heard on the grapevine that they give us a $1 for our fish and they get $1,000?

The building of an MFEM empire for funding applications in complete disregard for the community expertise offered by non-governmental organisations and is a thorn in the community side because government should not be in the business of granting or managing funds for local community applicants and social services.

Pa Enua communities will tell you that government officials come, promise, kaikai and leave, never to return.

Politically we are slowly moving out of a two-party political system. Ten years ago, not one independent was voted into Parliament and people were resigned to the fact that independents did not have a chance. Well that has been turned on its head in the 2018 general elections; I suspect that this will be the catalyst for other MP hopefuls in the future almost like an MMP system by default, given the recent party-hopping infection going on.

There is now a catalyst for other emerging political parties and aspirants to throw their hats into the ring and attempt to take the reins off those who show that they cannot be trusted.

There are underground mutterings and murmurings by individual politicians regarding displeasure with their leaders, the state of their parties, their current subordinate positions, their relationships with other members, pressure from constituents and family and that cooperation operates on the pareto principal, ie, 20 per cent effort for 80 per cent benefit.

Those politicians operating like this, I can tell you, that this is not a recipe for longevity or continued success. It is at best a short-term fix before Charon the Tillerman comes for his due – what goes around comes around.

I submit that we are heading irrevocably for a dinosaur system seemingly on its last legs and the dinosaurs don’t even know that a meteorite is coming with the possibility of a mass extinction event. Then watch the Punch and Judy show as they call in favours, manipulate, cajole and jostle for position, promises and partners, you know we and us can do better.

Te Tuhi Kelly



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