Would-be developers should stay home

Monday December 18, 2017 Written by Published in Tropical Chronicles

This drive to develop Penryhn, home to a people unwilling for their island to be developed, shows no sign of stopping.


One would think that when those affected by it say “no, we don’t want it”, those pushing it would respect what they say and go elsewhere, but that does not seem to be the case. 

I suppose in their minds persistence will pay off in the end, but how dare they?

“No”, means exactly that.

Last week a delegation of four Chinese nationals and one Korean flew to Penrhyn along with their agent Vaine Wichman and the island’s Member of Parliament, Willie John, to push once again the idea of developing the island into some kind of fishing hub, amongst a number of other ideas which are yet to be disclosed.

This is after a very stiff and angry reaction from the Penrhyn people both on the island and those who no longer live there, for what they see as ultimately the destruction of their pristine island environment.

And again Vaine Wichman was involved.

Remember the idea of culling sharks, which she of course denied, when the facts revealed that she had raised this idea with the Ministry of Marine Resources here in Rarotonga and with the Prime Minister’s office? Put one and one together and the whole culling exercise was so a Chinese company could acquire shark fins to sell in China and other Asian countries.

Remember also the proposal of massive development put forward by developer Tim Tepaki and his Merchants of Paradise, whereby Penrhyn would be converted into a modern utopia made possible by an upgraded airport, hotels and so on.

And I’m not sure whether readers were also aware of another group of Chinese investors promising to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convert the waterfront of the village of Omoka on the island into a tourism mecca. Wow!

This time the modus operandi was again very predictable. Wichman and her associates, along with her delegation were again sneaky, hoping to avoid consultation with “stakeholders” (a word I hate using).

With no forewarning at all, at least to Penrhyn Islanders living in Rarotonga - and there are quite a few of us here, the chartered flight took off for Penrhyn in the early hours on Friday morning last week.

Included in the group was the island’s Member of Parliament who is devoid of views about what happens on the island and has turned to be a huge embarrassment to the fighting spirit of the Penrhyn people.

Naturally, on arrival to the island they could not avoid meeting with the island council and with “Hakono Hararanga,” an incorporated society that I and a number of people belong to.

This is an association dedicated to the revival of nature on the island. It focuses on the conservation and management of the flora and fauna of the island including marine life. This association was formed to fight irresponsible government actions or the actions of others in the private sector supported by the Cook Islands government.

Apparently this fishing hub project has the blessing of the government and through its own manipulation of resources, it hopes Penrhyn Island will be developed into a super revenue-generating atoll - with a tiny population of just over 100 people.

Hakno Hararanga’s man on the ground explained to the delegation the revival of the honu (turtle).

Recent surveys have shown a huge occurrence of turtle nests on a scale never seen before. Around 1600 nests were discovered recently compared to the more usual 200 a year.

There is a great resurgence of the sea bird life on the island including marine life.

On the downside, the island under the watch of Hakono Hararanga and the Ministry of Marine Resources, has experienced coral bleaching and massive pasua (tridacana clam) issues.

Life on Tongareva (Penrhyn) is dependent on the health and bounty of the lagoon and therefore its biodiversity has to be protected at all costs.

Destroying the lagoon or ecosystems of water and sea water on the island will have a deadly impact on the marine life and indeed the existence of organisms that makes the world tick there.

There is also the question of climate change and the heating and cooling of the lagoon as dictated by La Nina and El Nino, and unmeasured development will simply just kill off this pristine environment, probably one of the last few ones of its kind in the world.

Tied to all of this of course is a political agenda by Wichman, Willie John and the government.

It wants to keep Penrhyn Island in the CIP fold come the next election after securing it last time by way of a bunch of Willie John’s family from Australia, being able to cast their votes for the constituency – in spite of the fact that they live in Australia.

In fact, most of their votes were by post as these people settled back into Australia after visiting the island and becoming stranded due to shipping problems.

I believe both Vaine and Willie want to have a go at the next general elections.

They needed to demonstrated might and power, and this how they do it. That’s because both lack the “mana henua” (authority of the land) to win support.

Wichman wears a number of hats here in various roles endorsed by the government such as president of the Cook Islands Women Federation and the Cook Islands Fishing Association.

What to do ay? What exactly do they want with this island? Have we not got enough wealth from it simply because of the bounty and beauty of nature? Instead we prefer to destroy it.

Well, I have said it before and I will say it again – over my dead body.


Leave a comment