Fireworks during the closing ceremony of the Cook Islands Games 2020. Photo: DANILO REYES. 20101811
It goes without saying that Covid-19 is the story of 2020, hands down. The virus dominated the headlines during the year, with many of the most popular stories shedding light on the impact it has had on all of us. But Covid-19 wasn’t the only story of the year. Cook Islands News takes a look back at the pandemic and other stories that defined the year 2020 …
Three die in road crashes
Family of Tikioki mechanic Mike Wood are grieving the loss
of a loving husband, father, son and son-in-law, after he died in a motorbike
accident on the weekend. Two bikes collided on the main road: a 16-year-old
local boy heading home to Tupapa; a Fiji expat worker and his friend heading
back towards town. One of the motorbikes had pulled out to overtake a car with
public health workers in it – and had hit the bike coming the other way.
Bye Bluesky, hello Vodafone
Cook Island’s telecommunication service will no longer be
called Bluesky as vendors know it. As of
today, Bluesky will now operate under the name Vodafone Cook Islands.
Phillip Henderson, the company chief executive officer, says
the service is ditching its name in a new effort to be more recognised.
Feast or famine: Slower visitor growth a chance to build Pa Enua tourism
Operators are working to build visitor numbers to the Pa
Enua, in a bold move to balance the tourism feast and famine that has been
troubling the industry. New figures reveals growth in tourism has slowed to 1.7
per cent year-on-year – but that’s still enough to take numbers to an all-time
high of 171,550 visitors in 2019. The problem is, traditionally many of them
have arrived all at once, and gone to all the same destinations. The rest of
the year, and the rest of the country, operators struggle to fill their hotel
rooms, their dining tables and the seats on their tours.
Rudy Aquino takes a photo of “downstairs” from an “upstairs” lookout in Mangaia. 20120405
Cook Islands ban arrivals
Anyone who’s visited mainland China in the past 14 days – or
even transited through – is barred from entering Cook Islands. The coronavirus
travel ban was later extended to 15 more countries including Philippines and
Indonesia, impacting a number of people travelling to Cook Islands. Government
announced that anyone travelling from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, Japan,
Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam,
Cambodia, Laos, Italy and Iran in the last 14 days will be denied entry into
Report commends ‘Atea’ as Maori name for Cook Islands
Traditional leaders have advised government on options for a
new Maori name for the country. They have drawn up a list of 117 alternatives,
in the search for a meaningful Maori name to complement the English language
Package containing illicit drugs intercepted by university staff
Police are investigating a parcel containing illicit drugs
delivered to a university campus in Rarotonga. A package supposedly containing
academic transcripts, text books and a graduation gown and head attire sent
from New Zealand, was dropped off by a courier driver at the University of the
South Pacific’s Cook Islands campus on Friday. Problem is, there is no planned
graduation there or at any other education institution in Rarotonga in the
Parliament boss sacked in blowout
Parliament’s Clerk has been sacked in an extraordinary
constitutional upheaval, after the cost of building a new debating chamber blew
out by $352,000. “I have been fired,” Tangata Vainerere confirmed, as he
prepared to clear his personal effects from his office last night.
It is understood Vainerere is taking legal advice over his
dismissal for “serious misconduct”.
Cook Islands residents stranded in New Zealand due to the
coronavirus crisis will now have to wait longer before returning home. This
after the government’s proposed plan to put them in a supervised quarantine
centre in Auckland for 14 days before returning them to Rarotonga, failed.
The $61m prescription
As New Zealand shuts down its borders, Cook Islands government
announces a rescue package to prop up failing businesses and keep people in
work. Critically, government will subsidise the payroll of companies suffering
from the economic downturn and tourism collapse: $304 a week towards the wages
of every employee – the equivalent of the minimum wage for three months.
Helmet law passed
Parliament lowers drink-drive limit and makes helmet
mandatory, in robust debate. The new law lowers the legal breath alcohol limit
from 400mcg to 250mcg, bans the use of mobile phones and earphones, and makes
helmets compulsory for all motorbike users.
These Tereora College students, pictured on the first day the helmet law was introduced in October, were quick to adapt to the new rules. However, critics of the legislation say some local motorcyclists are ignoring the law without penalty. 16100516
Dengue cases double in March
The Ministry of Health has ordered extensive puna clean-up
programmes to deter the spread of dengue after a record number cases last
month. In March alone there were 101 confirmed cases of the virus, which is
spread by mosquitos.
Customs begins lay-offs
Customs has laid off more than half its airport officers
after the cancellation of nearly all the country’s international flights. Only
one scheduled flight is arriving each week, and that Air New Zealand flight
carries only cargo, not passengers. Xavier Mitchell, Customs Service
Comptroller, said those laid off were considered to be casual workers under the
Employment Relations Act 2012. An “amicable settlement” was later reached
between Customs staff and the government.
Complaints of misuse of pay subsidy
Government is investigating complaints that local businesses
are misusing the wage subsidy initiative. Businesses affected by the
coronavirus crisis are receiving government’s minimum wage subsidy of $7.60 for
35 hours a week per employee. They are then supposed top up the balance to meet
the hourly rate of their employee as per the contract. If the businesses are
unable to pay more, then they are required to reduce the hours of work to meet
the $266 per week pay.
‘Kindness is one size fits all’
The return of about 130 Cook Islands residents on a special
flight today will be bittersweet. No ei, no hugs and kisses, no noise and
laughter, no family to shower them with love. But let there be no doubt, the
15,000 people in this one big bubble are overjoyed to welcome them home.
Teacher on life support
A young Rarotonga primary teacher has been evacuated to
hospital in Auckland, where she is critically ill with listeria. Apii Te Uki Ou
teacher Grace Archer was flown to Auckland on Air New Zealand flight 945 last
Friday, after the “acute deterioration” of her health.
Breach in quarantine
At least five people could be at “risk of contamination”
after a confirmed breach in quarantine at the Edgewater Resort and Spa on
Monday. The breach involves the transfer of a mobile phone from the quarantine
facility to a person on the outside. The person who collected the phone wasn’t
stopped by security or police officers and it was only when they returned to
the resort with the item, that concerns were raised.
Late burst of people power
Mamas and papas made up the vast majority of those who
joined the No 2 Helmets Rally at Constitution Park. They were unhappy that helmets are compulsory
for all motorcyclists on Rarotonga, from June 26. Protesters said the helmet
law shouldn’t have been amended in the first place, and helmets should only be
required for those who are 25-years-old and under, or those who exceed 40kmh.
Protests last month against a motorbike helmet law attracted about 200 people. 20060525
Border begins to open
The country will reopen its borders to Cook Islanders and
work permit holders in two weeks, the Prime Minister announced last night. From
June 19, Cook Islanders and work permit holders who have been in New Zealand
for the past 30 days and want to return home, or take up or resume employment,
will be eligible. They will not need to go into quarantine.
‘Look out for each other’
The many friends who have known Sue Fletcher-Vea’s care and
support are expected to gather at her family’s Manuia Beach Resort today to pay
their respects to the tourism leader, after her sudden passing. Family and
friends say she had thrown herself passionately and tirelessly into trying to
help the country through its economic slowdown, taking an inevitable toll on
the 52-year-old’s health. The Tourism Industry Council president was feeling
unwell and out of breath on Sunday so the hospital admitted her for
observation, but late on Monday she suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and passed
PM to step down
For the first time in the nation’s history, Cook Islands
Prime Minister Henry Puna will take the unprecedented step and bow out of his
role two years before his term ends. Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown will take
over the top role when Puna steps down in September this year. In an interview
with Cook Islands News before he officially announced his plans in Parliament
yesterday, the Prime Minister said he is vying for the position of
Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
Chlorine petition rejected
The petition opposing chlorine in Rarotonga’s drinking water
was dismissed in Parliament yesterday. The petition, filed by the anti-chlorine
group Te Vai Ora Maori, also opposed water rates for domestic users. The motion
to accept the petition was defeated after the government MPs voted against it.
Chair quits in clash
The chairperson of the Business Trade Investment Board says
the minister’s constant undermining of the board led to her resignation. Kopu
Anguna stepped down from the role on May 18 this year. Minister George Angene
yesterday dismissed her claim, saying Anguna resigned of her own accord.
New Ariki invested
The late Makea Vakatini Joseph Tepo Ariki was buried
yesterday. And immediately afterwards, witnessed by hundreds of people who
attended the funeral pay their respects, his son Makea Vakatini Phillip
Ngamatoa Ariki was invested as his successor. It has been many years since a
deceased Ariki is laid to rest, then the new Ariki invested at the same time at
the burial ground.
Wage subsidy: Go home, stay home
Workers on minimum wage subsidy can stay home and collect
their pay if there is no work available for them, says the Ministry of Internal
Affairs. A local resort owner says this new rule is “contradictory” to what the
Ministry of Finance had advised them earlier.
Wait for tourists, or go fish
The delay to a New Zealand air-bridge is causing Cook
Islands “significant economic and social damage”. According to the Asian
Development Bank’s latest Pacific Economic Monitor report, each month without
tourists costs the economy about three per cent in lost GDP. With the collapse
of tourism, the bank is now one of the country’s biggest financiers: half of
Cook Islands’ $193 million government debt is borrowed from the bank.
Flooded locals ask for help
A month’s worth of rain fell in fewer than 12 hours in
Rarotonga, causing widespread flooding around the island. Tina Maoate, who was
managing the Muri Outlet II store yesterday morning, had mops at both
entrances; every time a car drove by too fast, it sent a wave of dirty water
across her threshold and into the store.
Dengue bites in Pa Enua
Pukapuka islanders will today hold a massive clean-up around
the island to eradicate dengue mosquito breeding places. Pukapuka nursing officer
Tohoa Cummings said there were now nine probable cases whose blood had been
sampled locally. The nine were in the
primary stages – meaning they could self-care without having to be admitted to
Cook Islands News appoints new editor and senior journalists
Cook Islands News has appointed senior journalist Rashneel
Kumar to lead the paper through a challenging time for the country and the
world. He will be supported by an experienced team: Katrina Tanirau, herself a
former newspaper editor, is stepping up to the role of associate editor.
Dr Joseph Williams – a man of mana and humility
Cook Islanders here and around the world are in mourning and
flags are flying at half-mast as a sign of respect for former prime minister Dr
Joseph Williams who passed away in Auckland on September 4, after succumbing to
coronavirus. His older brother Tuaine passed away in Australia a day before.
Dr Joe Williams, QSO
Family forced into 14-day quarantine after breach
A Rarotonga man had unauthorised close contact with one of the
people who returned from New Zealand on Friday. The Health ministry will today
determine whether there will be any actions taken against a Rarotonga man who
breached quarantine at the weekend. The person, who is the head of his family,
had unauthorised close contact with one of the people who returned from New
Zealand on Friday. Ministry of Health has ordered him and his family into
compulsory supervised 14-day quarantine.
Transgender lose inclusion bid
A large majority of island teams have voted against
transgender athletes competing in the open women’s events at the upcoming Cook
Islands Games. Two transgender athletes had registered to compete in the open
women’s category at the Games to be held in Rarotonga next month. The decision
to allow their participation was put to the 11 participating teams.
Police suspends staff
Cook Islands Police Service have suspended staff who are
under investigation for alleged financial misconduct. Spokesperson Trevor Pitt
confirmed investigators have conducted a probe into the Police Service’s
administrative finances over recent weeks, leading to the suspension of staff.
Time for warning is over: Police gearing up to apply helmet law
Cook Islands Police are set to finally begin applying the
mandatory helmet law as of October 1 with the conclusion of the extended
two-month grace period at the end of this month.
Police spokesperson Trevor Pitt said: “The time for warnings
is over.” The new law – which is an amendment to the Transport Act 1966 -
requires all motorcyclists to wear helmets or face a fine of $250.
Digital dream realised as cable finally goes live
Few may have noticed, but the Manatua Cable is finally in
operation and delivering data from North America, through Tahiti, to internet
users in Rarotonga and Aitutaki. A quiet revolution has taken place as the
first bytes of data have travelled across the Pacific through the Manatua Cable
to the smartphones and computers of internet users in Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
$3.6m Avatiu ‘harbour’ bridge open to public
Avatiu residents will no longer have to fear damage to their
homes or properties from heavy rain and motorists no longer have to detour
following the opening of the new bridge. These were the sentiments shared at
the blessing and opening of the $3.6 million Avatiu bridge named “Vaimutu’uri”
Vaimutu`uri Bridge, better known as the Avatiu Bridge or Ruatonga Bridge, was officially opened on Wednesday after six months of construction. ICI/20100237
Man of the moment
Mark Brown is the new Prime Minister of the Cook Islands,
the tenth person to hold the nation’s highest position of leadership since the
country became self –governing in 1965.
Brown was appointed the new leader after Henry Puna resigned
from the job to contest for the role of Secretary General of the Pacific
Islands Forum. However, the official swearing-in ceremony at Government House
late yesterday afternoon almost didn’t take place after objection from the
Democratic Opposition Party earlier in Parliament.
Crash victim passes away
The Filipino expatriate community in Rarotonga are mourning
the death of one of their compatriots who passed away yesterday morning. Police
confirmed the passing of Filipino national Gelvin Quinoñes ,40.
Bid to abolish Koutu Nui
A Cabinet submission from the House of Ariki and its
Minister George “Maggie” Angene to abolish Te Koutu Nui has shocked members of
the traditional leaders group. The intentions of the matter were discussed at
the annual Te Koutu Nui conference held at the Crown Beach Resort this week.
PM takes on 17 portfolios
Prime Minister Mark Brown holds a “staggering” 17 portfolios
in the new Cabinet make-up.
As part of the government shakeup, Brown remains Minister of
Finance – a role he has held onto for roughly a decade since entering politics
in 2010 – and inherits the bulk of former prime minister Henry Puna’s
portfolio, including the role of Attorney General and Foreign Affairs and
Immigration. His expansive list of responsibilities includes Energy and
Renewable Energy, Outer Islands, Public Service Commission, Police, Marine
Resources, Seabed Minerals and Natural Resources, Cook Islands Investment
Corporation, Financial Supervisory Commission, Financial Services Development
Authority, Telecommunications, Audit/ Public Expenditure Review Committee, Head
of State and Cook Islands National Superannuation.
Matapo acting police chief
Deputy Police Commissioner Akatauira (Aka) Matapo has been appointed
the acting Commissioner of Police while the position is being advertised. Prime
Minister Mark Brown, who is also Minister for Police, expects an appointment to
be made in the new year 2021.
Government spokesperson Jaewynn McKay said the executive
council approved Matapo as the acting Police Commissioner last week Friday.
‘Gentleman Jim’ – a man for the people
All government flags will be flown at half-mast for the rest
of the week as a sign of respect for former Cook Islands prime minister Jim Marurai
who passed away peacefully at his home in Ivirua, Mangaia this week.
Former PM Jim Marurai, who passed away this year at the age of 73. 17071117
The Ministry of Health has called on the public to remain
vigilant despite their announcement that the dengue outbreak is now over. There
have been no confirmed cases since early September to the end of October,
confirmed the ministry, adding only two probable cases were reported during
In recent months, there has been a decline in the number of
Health boss ‘resigns’
Health Secretary Dr Josephine Aumea Herman has “resigned”
from her role. Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas said he yesterday
accepted the resignation letter of Dr Herman. On initially taking up this post
in February 2018, Thomas said Dr Herman had indicated to him of her intention
to only serve one term as the head of the ministry.
Licences issued to four new internet services providers
Four new local internet operators have been granted licences
in a bid to improve services and provide competition to Vodafone Cook Islands.
Competition and Regulatory Authority last week issued Internet Services
Provider Network Operator Licences to Kuk i Net Ltd, ICT Nexus Ltd, AYA Ltd,
and ManaNet Ltd. And Bernard Hill, the chair of the Authority, says they are
expecting to issue more licences in the near future.
Fears for children’s safety
Convicted child sex offender Andrew Marsters was allowed out
on work release privileges for a nephew in Avatiu, while children were playing
nearby. Andrew Marsters was convicted on 10 out of 13 charges relating to child
sex offences (from 1998 to 2017) and sentenced in March 2018 to 14 years’
imprisonment, this was reduced to 10 years on appeal.
Quarantine free travel with NZ by end of March, 2021
Prime Minister Mark Brown and New Zealand Prime Minister
Jacinda Ardern have agreed to an “arrangement to facilitate quarantine-free
travel between New Zealand and the Cook Islands” by end of March next year. The
agreement has been welcomed by local and NZ travel and tourism industry members
but one Cook Islands resort owner is not convinced, saying there is nothing new
in the latest announcement.
New airline set for takeoff
Mike Pero’s new airline is planning to launch direct flights
from Wellington and Christchurch to the Cook Islands “as early as May” 2021.
Cook Islander Pero, who is a well-known New Zealand-based businessman, unveiled
Pasifika Air after quarantine free travel between the two countries was
announced last week.
Matavera to lose treasured toa trees
The row of toa (ironwood) trees in Matavera on the main road
at the front of Takitumu Primary School will be destroyed. A public
consultation was held by the Ministry of Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI) last
week to present their final proposal for the Takitumu School road with the
Matavera community and the school board and families. The proposal included the
widening of the road to the “true boundary of 10 metres legal road corridor”.
Cut-throat discounting discouraged
The local tourism industry is being urged to refrain from
offering “large discounts” to Kiwis who are set to visit the country when the
quarantine free travel gets underway by March next year. In a newsletter to its
members, the Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council says while larger discounts
may attract more customers in the short-term, they urge them to think about the
negative longterm effects such discounts can have on their product and brand
Health appointment questioned
Former police officer Bob Williams has been appointed the
acting Secretary of Health while the hunt for a permanent head of ministry
continues. Questions have been raised over the appointment of Bob Williams as
acting Secretary of Health. Williams, the former chief executive officer for
the Minister of Health’s Support Office, took over the role on Christmas day on