Wilkie Rasmussen: Charter flights

Tuesday July 28, 2020 Published in Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

In my last letter to your newspaper I pointed out abuse by the Government and by the Minister Robert Tapaitau of public funds to pay for charter flights primarily for personal enjoyment and political benefit.

I believe this practice has gone unquestioned and unchecked for a long time. Therefore it has become common or acceptable practice by the Government and even by the heads of ministry who have authority to make payments from their respective Ministry budgets. 

In fact this practice had become prevalent over the last 10 years under Henry Puna and Mark Brown’s leadership. It is their flagship to holding onto the support of Independent members. Buy their loyalty.

It is also the Government’s mode for infinite campaigning, impressing voters with its might to move flights to islands. When the truth is they are really feeding in the public trough.

It is very clear that we have no mechanism to prevent this from happening and for holding responsible those that are in breach of the rules – one of those being the rule of ambiguous spending.

I know for a fact that heads of ministries never say no to demands from a Minister for such flights, for fear of losing their jobs.

That sense of being subservient is so ingrained in our public service with no possibility of power resting solely in the head of ministry. It has to be a very exceptionally strong head of ministry to say no.

Last year, the Government chartered a flight to fly Cook Islands Christian Church  orometuas to Atiu for its biennial conference.

Minister Robert Tapaitau and his sidekick Mark Ford recruited their favoured of the orometuas, earning the Minister political kudos. Most of the orometuas that flew came from Tongareva, the Minister's constituency.

The Church Secretary confirmed to me that no money was paid by the organisation towards the fares.

I understand the charter to Atiu and back to Rarotonga was paid from the budget of one of Minister Rose Brown’s Ministries or her office support, jointly with funds under Minister Tapaitau's responsibility.

No one ever questioned the legitimacy of the charter. Not a question was also asked of the Cabinet as to why it approved the payments. The question is should the Government pay for the fares of the Omoretuas to attend their own private conference?

Yours sincerely,

Wilkie Rasmussen

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