Prime Minister Henry Puna and fnance secretary Richard Neves must be seething with anger over their defeat at the hands of elderly foes. Both men were resolute and were unshakeable in their stance not to be trampled by Dennis Tunui and his unlikely warriors. Not only were they stumped and trodden over but these two men (partners against the simple plight of pensioners) have been shamed publicly and professionally. It must be dreadfully humiliating.
Well, don’t say they have not been warned. I have through my columns and the media on many occasions pleaded to the PM, his Cabinet, the Minister of Finance, the Secretary of Finance and the Collector of Revenue Andrew Haigh to consider favourably the requests of Grey Power. Other members of the public have also called on the government to facilitate these elderly Cook Islanders. But everything fell on deaf ears. In fact, not content with their opposition to what I understand to be quite reasonable demands, the PM and Neves actually hit back at Grey Power with the thrust of the Income Tax Act and with the sweeping powers of the Collector of Revenue. It was all rather ghastly and irrelevant in many ways.
But, as if they were not told, the PM et al eventually realised that they have picked the wrong group to fight against. They might no longer have the muscle power, nor have loud booming voices but they certainly have perseverance and the will to get justice. Perhaps because of Grey Power persistence, the Collector of Revenue felt the need to teach these people a lesson and show once and for all that he is the law. He instructed the raiding of accounts by several Grey Power members during Christmas time. It was plainly a stupid thing to do.
Of course we all know what happened afterwards. Legal opinions flew in and out and most were condemnations of the exercise of such powers. Most regarded the actions as illegal. The political heat also rose to unacceptable heights and the public was outraged, a feeling shared and vented by the families of those elders whose accounts were raided. From the eyes of political observers, the government is committing political suicide and may never turn their fortunes around from impending doom. So next minute, the PM announces that Cabinet has approved the reimbursement of such monies and of course he looked a jolly fool as he layered his message with the “we care for you elderly people” line. Come again, that’s not what he said not so long ago.
In all of this I felt sorry for the Collector of Revenue because he allowed himself to be the scapegoat in all of this. He published an article saying this problem had nothing to do with the government. He had further denials in other media outlets. In other words he is excusing the culpability of the PM, Minister of Finance and the Secretary of Finance. Are we to believe that there was no intention of government to collect taxes here no matter what? In other words the Cabinet, PM and his co-horts do not care what anyone says; all must pay tax and money must be recovered from those that owe tax, old or young. That really is the driving force and the PM was neglectful of the negative effects of it. When it bubbled into danger, he said it was someone else that created the problem. Come on, “man up” as they say in rugby league circles.
Now, a couple of nights ago the Secretary of Finance announced that the reimbursement can only be done by creating a supplementary budget to be put to parliament at the next sitting, probably at the end of next month. By March, the monies taken will be back in the accounts they were in before they were raided. That of course was not good enough for some people. Well, the law requires that an expenditure appropriation be passed by parliament. Clearly, the PM and his government had shot themselves in the foot and the legal procedures have now entered the fray otherwise, handing back money just like that will be illegal. Again, isn’t it humiliating?