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2023 year in review

Sunday 31 December 2023 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Features, Memory Lane, Weekend

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2023 year in review
Prime Minister Mark Brown and his wife Daphne break into a dance at the official opening of the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting at the National Auditorium on Monday. Picture: LOSIRENE LACANIVALU

A look back at the year’s biggest news stories.

January


A 52-year-old woman, holidaying from New Zealand with family, drowned after getting into difficulty while in the lagoon near the Arorangi jetty.. Picture: CAMERON SCOTT/23010204

Tragedy: Mother drowns trying to save daughter : A 52-year-old mother has drowned while trying to save her 11-year-old daughter who was being swept out by the current in the lagoon near the Arorangi jetty. According to police spokesman Trevor Pitt, the woman, holidaying from New Zealand with family, got into difficulty while in the lagoon near the Arorangi jetty.

Second Covid death

Cook Islands recorded its second Covid-19-related death, Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health announced. Secretary of Health Bob Williams confirmed that an 82-year-old female suddenly died on the island of Mauke.  “She returned back to Mauke on January 2, 2023, from Australia with her medications due to other personal health issues. She was fully vaccinated in Australia,” Williams said in a statement. This was her second infection for she tested positive for Covid before returning back to Mauke.

$5.4m returned in overpaid tax

The Revenue Management Division will be making a submission to Cabinet, outlining the costs incurred and to be borne by Cook Islands taxpayers, in the legal action taken by Air New Zealand over ‘overpaid tax’. Deputy tax director Alan Richardson confirmed a determination of costs was announced on November 29 last year. He then revealed $5.4 million was paid to Air NZ on August 5 last year.

Govt reveals CCECC deal

Financial Secretary Garth Henderson says it is unlikely that the Government would again use the Chinese state-owned company responsible for installing faulty pipes in a major water infrastructure project. After spending about $200,000 collecting evidence, the Cook Islands government backed down from taking legal action against the China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC). Henderson said geopolitical issues were one of the reasons for dropping the legal action over CCECC’s poor workmanship on 17 kilometre of piping works for the Te Mato Vai stage one project.

February

Culture head convicted of drink-driving

The Secretary of Cultural Development has been convicted of drink-driving and disqualified from driving for 12 months. Anthony Turua appeared in the Criminal Court in Avarua facing a charge of excess blood alcohol and careless driving.   The matter relates to an incident last year when Turua was reportedly caught in the middle of a police chase that resulted in damages to government vehicles driven by the police officer and Turua on September 17, 2022. Turua tested 123 micrograms per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit is 50 mg per 100 millilitres of blood. In September, Turua, who was under suspension, resigned as the head of Culture.

‘Stop dog culling’

The Cook Islands SPCA has condemned Police for killing non-aggressive dogs on Rarotonga. The animal welfare group is threatening to leave a Government committee aimed at addressing the country’s overpopulation of dogs, which is chaired by Police Commissioner Turepu James Keenan, if the shooting does not stop. SPCA president and shelter manager David Pokia said: “We know there are dogs that are dangerous, but they’re not targeting those dogs. We can’t support the Police when they’re doing the opposite of what we’re doing, and we will not be staying with a committee that does not support our values.”

PSC to clampdown on ‘excessive’ drinking on government premises

Public Service Commissioner Carl Hunter is ‘very unhappy and disappointed’ with those involved in excessive alcohol consumption at a government property and will raise concerns with heads of ministries at a meeting. Hunter said it is his expectation that the head of the agency where the drinking took place, will reprimand their employees for drinking and driving while under the influence of alcohol.  “Such behaviour on a Government property is simply not tolerated.”

Hunter raised concerns after learning a drunk driver on Rarotonga had recorded a breath alcohol reading nearly five times the legal limit – the highest police have seen in recent years.

March

Bringing back millions

The Cook Islands Government is seeking to bring back home some of the more than $30 million a year in international banking transactions.  Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) economist Sally Wyatt said “we know there is a substantial amount of revenue earned in the Cook Islands is banked in accounts offshore every year”. Wyatt said $30 million of revenue earned in the Cook Islands is banked in accounts offshore every year.


Prime Minister and leader of the Cook Islands Party (CIP) Mark Brown with CIP member Sonny Williams celebrating Williams’ petition win declaring him as MP for Titikaveka in March. AL WILLIAMS/23031010

Williams declared Titikaveka MP

Cook Islands Party member Sonny Williams has been confirmed as the new MP for Titikaveka.  Williams, who won the seat over Cook Islands United Party candidate Margharet Matenga by three votes at the 2022 general election in August, had been waiting on the outcome of a petition hearing. The petition, which was launched by Matenga, claimed that there were four “ineligible” voters who voted in the electorate. Justice Christopher Toogood, who oversaw the hearings, announced his decision in favour of Williams.

Man, 50, sentenced to eight years in prison for rape

A Mangaia man who only stopped raping his teenage victim after she gave birth to their son has been sentenced to eight years in prison.  Teina Ngametuatoe, 50, showed little emotion as he was led from the dock at the High Court in Avarua.

In sentencing, Justice Christopher Toogood described the defendant’s offending as prolonged and disturbing.

MPs sworn in

After a long wait following the 2022 general election on August 1, 2022, the incoming Members of Parliament (MPs) were sworn on the first meeting of the 18th Parliament of the Cook Islands. Former Cook Islands Party MP Tai Tura was reappointed the Speaker of Parliament unopposed and unanimously alongside his deputy and Pukapuka MP Tingika Elikana

April


Sarah Stubbings, ANZ Regional Executive, Pacific, with ANZ Pacific economist Dr Kishti Sen. MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD/23033145

Sky high inflation

A leading Pacific economist says the inflation rate in the Cook Islands skyrocketed to as high as 15 per cent in 2022, adding continued inflationary pressures remain.  Dr Kishti Sen, an ANZ Pacific economist, said there was a lag in recent data, but from November 2021 to November 2022, the rate of inflation in the Cook Islands increased by 15 per cent. This was largely driven by food prices, housing costs and transport.

$216m debt ‘modest’: PM

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown says he is satisfied with the country’s ‘modest’ debt levels, but the Opposition are concerned about the fiscal future.

During Question Time in Parliament, PM Brown responded to a question from Opposition leader Tina Browne about the Cook Islands’ current debt levels.

Browne wanted to know whether there was a plan to put a ceiling on Covid-19 spending, what was the actual total value of public debt, and what plans were in place to repay the debt given the slowdown of the economy. PM Brown explained as the estimated net debt levels to be $216 million by the end of the financial year in June.


Members of Pride Cook Islands with Prime Minister Mark Brown and Government MP Tingika Elikana outside Parliament following the passing of the Crimes (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill 2023 which, among other things, decriminalises homosexuality. DANIEL FISHER/23041501

‘We have made history’

A historic change to the Crimes Act has decriminalised homosexuality in the Cook Islands.  The Crimes (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill 2023 was passed in Parliament. Among other things, the Bill decriminalises homosexuality which under the Crimes Act 1969 was punishable by up to five years in jail.

After the passing of the Bill, Pride Cook Islands president Karla Eggelton said “we have made history”.

May

Strong opposition to vaping

Calls to restrict or ban access to e-cigarettes or ‘vaping products’ in the Cook Islands have intensified, as Australia announces major restrictions on the products. Secretary of Health Bob Williams told Cook Islands News that the Public Health Bill was in progress and would go to Parliament next month, saying that regulation of e-cigarettes was a priority work to be done following the enactment of the Bill.


Britain’s King Charles III greets the crowd as he and Queen Camilla travel to Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach after their coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey, in London, Saturday, May 6, 2023. (Rob Pinney/Pool Photo via AP/ 23050714

God save the King: Cook Islands congratulates King Charles III

Cook Islands joined the rest of the world in congratulating the newly crowned King Charles III, who is now officially our Head of State. King Charles was crowned at London’s Westminster Abbey at the age of 74 after the passing of his mother Queen Elizabeth II in September last year. King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters and Lady Tuaine Marsters represented the Cook Islands at the Coronation.

Airport fire

A fire broke out at Rarotonga’s International Airport terminal which was swiftly contained by the Airport Authority Crash Fire stationed next door. Electrical arching from the solar panel connectors have been found to be the cause of a blaze. Adverse weather conditions and the absence of planned schedules for periodic maintenance checks have also been found to be contributing factors according to reports prepared by both the fire investigation team and an independent investigator.

Police confirm fatal stabbing, 53yo charged with murder

A 56-year-old man appeared in Court charged with murder.  The appearance comes after police released a statement saying they are continuing with a homicide investigation after a 29-year-old man was fatally stabbed. Cook Islands News understands the person died in a family dispute. Police were called to the scene at a Tutakimoa residence at 7.21pm to find the man had succumbed to a knifing.

Chickens ‘dropping dead’

Chickens are dropping dead on the island and investigation is underway to find the reason behind their sudden death. The Ministry of Agriculture says they have reached out to New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries Animal Health for support in identifying the reason chickens have been found dead in Rarotonga.


Prime Minister Mark Brown, who is also the country’s Finance Minister, holds the 2023/24 Budget which he tabled in Parliament yesterday. Picture: RASHNEEL KUMAR/23052417

Focus on the vulnerable

An increase to the minimum wage and more money for caregivers and destitute beneficiaries are some of the key initiatives in the Cook Islands 2023/24 Budget. The Budget was described by Prime Minister Mark Brown as “lean”, but includes a number of initiatives in response to cost-of-living issues.  The theme of the Budget was “Nurturing our Nation”. The total appropriation for the 2023/24 Budget is $325,610,471 (estimate), about $5.2 million more than the 2022/23 Budget total. Brown, who is also the country’s Finance Minister, told Parliament: “Just as a season of growth requires tending to the soil, planting seeds, and watering them, nurturing a nation requires intentional efforts to heal and rebuild after difficult circumstances.”

June

Claims of lies, leaks, theft and deception at High profile trial

There were tears in the High Court at Avarua as the Judge alone trial of suspended Deputy Prime Minister Robert Tapaitau and husband and wife duo, former director of the National Environment Service Nga Puna and former Secretary of Infrastructure Cook Islands Diane Charlie-Puna, got underway.  The three are alleged to have stolen in excess of $70,000, mostly through theft. Tapaitau, who is also the Cook Islands Party MP for Penrhyn, faces one charge of conspiracy to defraud and three of theft as a servant. Charlie-Puna faces seven charges of theft as a servant and one of conspiracy to defraud. Puna faces 22 charges of theft as a servant, six of forgery and one of conspire to defraud.

Defects detected in police patrol vessel Te Kukupa II

Cook Islands Police have confirmed that the Te Kukupa II patrol vessel that the Australian Government gifted to the Cook Islands last year has had defects detected.  Cook Islands News approached police spokesman Trevor Pitt, who said “the boat has been dealing with various defects since delivery of Te Kukupa II, which are understandable given the new class of vessel”. 

“These have been across the region. The most recent fault was found as part of the routine checks following the regional ops (Tui Moana), and the issue is being resolved in consultation with Australia,” Pitt said.

July

Asbestos concerns    

Asbestos has presented an “unacceptable risk” to Revenue Management Division and Customs staff in Rarotonga, forcing Ministry of Finance and Economic Management to close the Avarua office. It is not yet clear what the specific problem is as Cook Islands News has asked government's Financial Secretary Garth Henderson, but he says he will have answers when he is informed. In October it was reported that structural building integrity and asbestos issues at the Old Post Office have resulted in more than 50 staff members being relocated and the building being closed down.

Celebrating faith, unity and cultural heritage

As Rarotonga commemorated 200 years of Christianity yesterday, the island’s celebrations served as a poignant reminder of the enduring power of faith, unity and cultural heritage. The morning started with the re-enactment of the arrival of the Tahitian missionary Papeiha at Avarua harbour. Anautoa Rangatira - Tuaine Unuia, pictured, welcomed vaka Paikea and the Gospel delegation onboard the vaka with the traditional Kiriti Marotai traditional welcoming ceremony at Avarua harbour.

August

Immigration Regulations to be reviewed: PM Brown

The controversial Immigration Regulations will be reviewed after a push from the Cook Islands business community who are not happy with some of the newly implemented provisions.  Prime Minister Mark Brown has called for a briefing to discuss objections raised against the new immigration regulations.

The Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council has submitted a summary to the Prime Minister outlining the views of its members on the implications that the new Immigration Regulations will have on the workforce. PM Brown told Cook Islands News that he hoped to address the concerns as soon as possible.

‘Rarotonga is not safe’

A Kiwi family who arrived on Rarotonga for a holiday were robbed of their cash, passports, and other items on their first night on the island. Police say there is a clear pattern of targeted burglaries at visitor accommodation facilities.

Five burglaries have been reported to police over the past five weeks in the Tikioki/Titikaveka areas of Rarotonga. Police say there is a clear pattern of targeted burglaries at visitor accommodation facilities in these areas.

Police spokesperson Trevor Pitt said they are pursuing leads in terms of known offenders, despite the absence of any information from witnesses.

Education Secretary Cochrane resigns

Secretary for Education Danielle Tungane Cochrane has tendered her resignation, Office of the Public Service Commissioner (OPSC) confirmed.

Cochrane handed her resignation to Public Service Commissioner Carl Hunter on Monday, August 7, 2023. Her resignation will be effective as of December 15, 2023 – the end of the 2023 academic year.  “Her decision to resign as the Secretary for Education was for personal reasons,” OPSC said.

September

Defensive driving

A visiting Judge has asked why defensive driving is not an option in the Cook Islands following police concerns about the future of road safety in the nation.

Justice Colin Doherty asked Probation Services if they had any defensive driving programmes, when sentencing a motorist for careless driving causing injury in the High Court. Justice Doherty was told that there were no such programmes available in the Cook Islands.

Cook Islands and United States establish diplomatic relations

As Prime Minister Mark Brown met with United States President Joe Biden in Washington and confirmed closer ties between the nations through formal diplomatic relations, Opposition leader Tina Browne said the Democratic Party would maintain a “vigilant and constructive role in ensuring that this diplomatic recognition serves the best interests of the Cook Islands and contributes to a harmonious and equitable international community”. PM Brown said the two nations would work together to address regional and global challenges, promote sustainable development, and create opportunities for Cook Islands people.

October


Members of the Cook Islands group in Israel. Kora Kora, far right, and Sanaila Nahuto, far left, said the members are safe and sound. GABBY ABARIGA/23100802

‘We are safe and well’

Cook Islanders who are in Israel to observe the Feast of the Tabernacle are ‘safe’ as the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip escalates. A group of about 30 from the Cook Islands in Jerusalem are asking people for their prayers after the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an unprecedented deadly attack on Israel. Kora Kora, who is part of the Cook Islands group, said: “We are all safe and well in Jerusalem. Our hearts and prayers are with the nation of Israel at this time.”

‘No issues’: Government on Sheraton road closure

Government says it has no issue with the closure of the coastal main road in Vaimaanga to make way for the Sheraton redevelopment. Prime Minister Mark Brown confirmed that the government has “no issues” with plans for an inland diversion of the main road to make way for the redevelopment of the abandoned Sheraton hotel in Vaimaanga. Cook Islands News earlier this month reported Rarotonga businessman Chris Vaile has plans to divert the main coastal road behind his ongoing venture at the old Sheraton site. PM Brown, who had earlier supported Vaile’s project, said they have always been aware of the ring road development around this project He said it was part of an agreement signed by the government and the landowner in the 1990s.

High tropical cyclone risk

Two to three named cyclones are expected to pass through the Cook Islands this tropical cyclone season. The peak of tropical cyclone activity in the Cook Islands is usually from December to February, according to the Cook Islands Meteorological Services. The Cook Islands Meteorological Services says the tropical cyclone risk for the Cook Islands is high for the upcoming season, based on forecast climate conditions and analysis of historical records.

Aitutaki residents frustrated by ‘chronic’ water shortage crisis

Aitutaki residents are frustrated by the ongoing water shortage crisis on the island, as some households face extended periods of water cuts lasting up to four weeks and more.  For years, complaints and reports on numerous occasions regarding the island’s dire water situation have disappeared into a big dry hole. Some households are experiencing a lack of running water for extended periods of up to four weeks, and some for five months and more.

Water meters

Rarotonga residents look set to contribute more tax dollars to support water infrastructure. To Tatou Vai chairperson Brian Mason, the group responsible for the collection, treatment and distribution of potable water to the Rarotonga community, confirmed it was not a rumour, and that TTV will be installing water meters in all houses.

MPs near annual travel budget in three months

Cook Islands Members of Parliament have nearly spent their annual travel and allowances (local and overseas) budget of $250,000 just three months into the 2023/24 financial year, due to a series of overseas trips.  The MPs have raked up $246,347.03 in travel, accommodation, and allowances for the first quarter of the 2023/24 financial year from July 1 to September 30, 2023. Prime Minister Mark Brown, who is also the chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, has the highest travel-related expenses at $66,702.83, followed by Opposition Democratic Party leader Tina Browne ($53,693.15), Minister for Justice Vaine Mokoroa ($36,867.13), and Associate Minister Tingika Elikana ($24,000.33).

November


The late Albert Royale Henry’s family, King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters and Lady Tuaine with Prime Minister Mark Brown at Government House in Titikaveka. SUPPLIED / 23110101

Pardon for Papa Arapati long overdue: PM Brown

Cook Islands ‘godfather of modern politics’ and first premier, the late Albert Royle Henry or better known as Papa Arapati, has been given a formal pardon by the King’s Representative (KR) Sir Tom Marsters.  The first pardon to be exercised by the King’s Representative was held behind closed doors at Government House in Titikaveka. In his speech supplied to the Cook Islands News, Prime Minister Mark Brown said that the decision was fitting as the country prepares for the opening of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting on Monday, November 6.

Cook Islands’ first passenger lift open to public

Access to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) building now requires just the push of a button for the elderly, vulnerable, and persons with disabilities. The nation’s first passenger lift/elevator at the Justice building significantly improves accessibility for everyone.


Cook Islands Prime Minister and Pacific Islands Forum chair Mark Brown with Pacific Islands Forum secretary general Henry Puna during the Leaders Retreat on Aitutaki yesterday. MELINA ETCHES/23110971

Cook Islands showcases culture at Pacific Leaders Forum opening

The 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting got off to a colourful start with a proud display of vibrant Cook Islands culture and tradition at the National Auditorium. Prime Minister and Pacific Islands Forum chair Mark Brown, pictured, welcomed the leaders and representatives from the Forum’s 18 member countries taking part in the annual meeting in Rarotonga and Aitutaki this week. The leaders and their delegation were treated to entertainment by children and a Manihiki dance group. The event, which was open to the public, ended with dinner for everyone.

Residents of northern group islands lose cargo in ship fire

Residents of the northern group islands lost some of their cargo when MV Lady Moana caught fire en route to its first stop at Penrhyn. The fire broke out onboard the Taio Shipping vessel about 60 nautical miles off Penrhyn, Puna Vano, the island executive officer, told Cook Islands News. MV Lady Moana was carrying dried and nonperishable goods, including frozen goods earmarked for Christmas, along with motorcycles and other cargo for Penrhyn, Rakahanga, and Manihiki.

Confrontation at courthouse as two groups trade insults

Tensions boiled over as Police were forced to separate two groups of people at the Ministry of Justice Building in Avarua shortly after the appearance of eight men in court facing charges related to a brawl on Rarotonga. The eight, all visitors from Australia, with a group of supporters, were accosted by another group of men out front of the building. One of the accused was approached by another man, who had been among the group waiting in the car park on the ground floor of the building. As Police separated the groups, the drama continued as they moved towards each other, trading insults and expletives. 

NCDs the number one killer

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have emerged as the leading cause of premature illness, death, and disability in the Cook Islands, according to Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health. A surge in the number of deaths recorded in the Cook Islands this year has been attributed to the high prevalence of NCDs in the country. The latest March 2023 quarterly update on NCD cases in the Cook Islands revealed a dramatic increase in the number of individuals diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Since April of last year, these diseases have been responsible for the majority of deaths in the Cook Islands, with cardiovascular diseases topping the list of NCD-related fatalities.

December

CISNOC head’s remote work arrangement questioned

The Cook Islands Sport and National Olympic Committee (CISNOC) has this week admitted that its secretary-general, Owen Lewis, had been granted permission to undertake contract work overseas while receiving full pay, six months after stating he was on approved leave.  The admission comes following ongoing concerns around travel arrangements and other payments for the 2023 Pacific Games, which concluded in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

Pacific tuna at stake: Global leaders gather for sustainable solution

Cook Islands hosted the 20th regular session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC20), which oversees the world’s largest tuna fisheries. The opening ceremony at Te Are Karioi (National Auditorium), was attended by hundreds of delegates from 41 WCPFC member countries.

These countries encompass small island developing states, developed fishing nations, and participating territories, all united to deliberate on the sustainable management of tuna and its related species in the world’s largest ocean.


House roofs in Tetautua, Penrhyn were blown off yesterday morning with no warning received from emergency and weather authorities. SUPPLIED/23120530

Strong winds ravage Penrhyn

Penrhyn residents are reeling after strong winds ripped through their homes early morning, causing significant damage and raising concerns about the lack of timely warnings.  Around eight to nine homes in Omoka and Tetautua sustained serious roof damage, breadfruit trees were toppled, and the Tetautua School’s evergreen tree met a similar fate. Puna Vano, Penrhyn’s executive officer, said that the Island Government had not received any warning or weather bulletin from Emergency Management Cook Islands (EMCI) Rarotonga to caution them about the strong winds.

Bread prices rise again

The Price Tribunal has confirmed an increase in bread prices, effective Sunday, December 10. This new price structure applies only to rectangular, sliced loaves produced by Avarua Bakery and Turoa Bakery.  White sliced bread will now cost $6.72, up from $5.95. Wholemeal and wholegrain bread prices have also risen, from $6.25 to $7.14 per loaf. In the Pa Enua, white loaves are now priced at $7.50, while wholemeal and wholegrain options are $8.10 each.

Government seeks more Ministers

The Cook Islands government is seeking to increase the number of Cabinet Ministers from six to eight through a proposed amendment to the Constitution, which will be tabled in Parliament next week. However, the proposed changes have already drawn criticism from opposition parties. Both the Democratic Party and the Cook Islands United Party have expressed concerns about the lack of justification for the increase and the associated costs.


Passengers prepare for the journey aboard Lady Samoa IV as she is loaded for the voyage from Rarotonga to Pukapuka on Wednesday. PHOTO: JOANNE HOLDEN/23121320

Pukapuka ferry trip for diaspora costs $640,000

A Samoan passenger ferry has been chartered by the Cook Islands government for $640,000 to take 160 New Zealand and Australia based people of Pukapuka descent to the northern island. Pukapuka MP Tingika Elikana confirmed the costs and logistics had been signed off by government, following approval by the Cabinet. The Office of the Prime Minister clarified that the vessel charter costs $460,000, excluding taxes and other fees. The statement further noted that revenue generated from passenger seat sales and cargo is not expected to cover the full cost.

PM suggests flag rethink

Cook Islands Prime Minister has suggested considering a return to the original flag, designed by the nation’s first premier, for stronger reflection of national colours and sovereignty. Prime Minister Mark Brown says changing the national flag to the original design by the late and first Cook Islands Premier Albert Royale Henry (Papa Arapati) could be something Cook Islanders should consider. This design, featuring a green background with 15 gold stars in a circle, would more reflect the nation’s colours and independence, Brown believes.

Drowning incident

A resident of Vaimaanga in Titikaveka is calling on tourists to heed the warning signs that have been put in place for their own safety. The urgent call follows the drowning death a 50-year-old New Zealand man - confirmed to have died at the lagoon – Avaavaroa passage opposite YWAM in Vaimaanga, Titikaveka. Police media officer Trevor Pitt said a body was recovered from the water by one of the tour guides, who had gone to assist the man.

From grey to glory

Access through the Nikao seawall road was closed off as a refreshing light sun shower sprinkled down, marking the historic blessing and official unveiling ceremony of the stunning Te Marae Moana Ocean and cultural themed seawall mural, and the striking new “Te Pou Tūtoru” (Three Pillars) mural by Airport Authority. The vibrant seawall mural stretches across 562 metres and showcases all 15 islands of the Cook Islands, detailing significant marine and bird species, people, and characteristics unique to each island.

Bus fares set to rise

A long serving Cook Islands public service has been forced to hike its prices as it struggles without government subsidies. Cooks’ Islands Bus Passenger Transport has been operational for more than 30 years and provides public transport at subsidised rate to locals, while providing a service for visitors, including charters, and a school service for students on Rarotonga. 

Guilty or not? High profile trial verdict in the new year

The final submissions were heard in the high-profile corruption case involving the country’s Deputy Prime Minister and ex-ministry heads, with the judge to deliver verdict in the new year. The final submissions from Crown and defence have been heard in Court and Chief Justice Patrick Keane has indicated he will make a decision sometime in the new year about the dishonesty charges faced by Deputy Prime Minister Robert Tapaitau, former National Environment Service (NES) director Nga Puna, and his wife and former Secretary of Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI), Diane Charlie-Puna.

Police confirm alcohol, speed in fatal motorcycle accident

Police have determined alcohol and speed were factors in the fatal motorcycle accident on Aitutaki. NRL player Troy “TJ” Dargan tragically died in a motorcycle accident early Christmas Eve while holidaying with his family.

The 26-year-old Canberra Raiders utility and former South Sydney Rabbitoh was found unresponsive on the road where he had crashed his motorbike into fencing by the Aitutaki Airport, shortly after 1am. He was not wearing a helmet and sustained a severe head trauma and other injuries, police said in statement.