Skimming on the edge of unlawful politics

Monday May 14, 2018 Written by Published in Tropical Chronicles

I once heard a judge warn a defendant who I was acting for during sentencing. “Young man,” said the wise judge. “Your conduct is unacceptable and you are skimming on the edge of the boundary of whether you go to jail or not”. Fortunately, that young man did not become a guest of Her Majesty’s barracks in Arorangi.


I am reminded of His Honour’s remarks by observation of the conduct of the government and Prime Minister Henry Puna.

First, the PM calls a snap election and we do not really know the reason why.

I speculated in my Tropical Chronicles column last week that he called the snap election because of internal cracks in the government that will seriously affect the chances of the CIP in the next general elections.

I pointed in particular to the standoff between the PM and his deputy PM, Teariki Heather, who has challenged Henry Puna several times for the CIP leadership at party annual conferences.

Teariki Heather continues to pursue his ambition, and this time part of the strategy, which is so clear to the public, is to stack the elections with candidates he has secured loyalty from.

Puna was spooked by this. He ran to the polling booths. However, Puna’s days are numbered. That is a guarantee.

Secondly, after calling the snap election for the 14th of July this year, Puna behaves in an extraordinary way, never before seen by any PM or party leader in Cook Islands politics.

For instance, he heads off to Manihiki and announces the Manihiki airport terminal project, funded by taxpayer’s funds.

He did not shirk from the fact that a number of observers could interpret this as corruption under the Electoral Act 2004 and the Crimes Act 1969. This could invoke a petition against him if he wins in Manihiki.

I mean, in the 2014 elections he was “skimming on the edge of the boundary” when he promised outboard motors to Manihiki voters during the official campaign period. He might not be so lucky this time.

There must be a special motivation making Puna behave this way. Is it super-confidence or some sort of psychological edge he has over the rest of us mere mortals? He just seems like he could not care less.

I am amazed that there is no pulling back of this sort of deliberate vote-buying conduct by Puna riding on the back of taxpayer’s money and of aid projects.

I am sure he was incensed by the fact that he could not capitalise on the Tereora College project as part of the political campaign because New Zealand Aid called it early and formally opened the project during the visit of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern here earlier this year.

Not to be discouraged or outsmarted, Puna rallied up his Cabinet and a delegation and bee-lined to Wellington.

There he became part of the announcement that Cook Islanders who live in the Cook Islands are exempt from the requirement of five years residence in New Zealand before collecting NZ super. I heard Puna on radio say that this was an outcome of his work and a credit to his government.

However, we see two recent events glorifying Henry Puna as the PM that achieved all of these.

Some may say it is a coincidence – well, the Chinese did.

The Chinese ambassador to New Zealand and to the Cook Islands visited our country the other week and held a grand opening of the Nikao school project.

Guess who was rubbing his hands in glee and hoping that people will vote the CIP back into another term of office – Henry Puna.

The PM reminded me of an attention-seeking kid who always claims credit despite someone else doing the hard work.

A week after the Chinese, we had the European Union representatives – and there again the PM is in Mitiaro, turning the light on for the first time powered by solar energy.

Big smile from Henry Puna and of course saying to voters – we did this, my government.

How much of this will go on, I do not know, but it appears to be part of the CIP campaign.

I remember Henry Puna’s mouthpiece Mark Brown said, ‘We are aware that the Demos will watch our every move and pick us out on illegal matters. That is how the Demos will fight us in this election’.

Mark Brown is the finance minister, who in his first run to be an MP got defeated by a grandmother and was lucky the grandma just got too old to be active in politics.

Well, Brown is right. The Demos want a clean and lawful election, untainted by corruption in the form of treating or bribery. That is how you get into office with integrity.

I along with a number of others are still waiting for the CIP to put out their policies. Nothing yet.

Perhaps I should stop kidding myself and resolve that policies are not their thing.

The Demo Party, like a true political party, felt that it owed the public explanations as to what it will do if elected and come into government. It worked over several months to put these policies in place.

I have said it before – the Democratic Party will work for the people, and the development of policies is like a social contract upon which the public can hold the Demos up for not delivering on such policies.

As for the CIP – no warning, no justification to the public – core taxes wiped. That is reckless and, as I have always said, also arrogant behaviour.

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