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Concern over Manuae Trust

Friday 10 February 2023 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Court, Environment, National, Outer Islands


Concern over Manuae Trust
Atina Currie-Sawtell, the Democratic Party candidate for the constituency of Arenikau in Aitutaki. SUPPLIED/22071803

Tension is building over the establishment of a Conservation Trust for the uninhabited atoll of Manuae.

The Manuae Conservation Trust (MECT), which was established in October last year, recently released its action plan for the next few years.

However, Atina Currie, who is the secretary of the Proprietors of Manuae Incorporated (PMI), said she and other landowners were concerned about how the Trust had been formed and pushed its agenda forward as though it were a done deal.

“There is a lot of angst in the community about what has been done. Many feel like they haven’t been given the full picture, and I have to agree,” Currie said.

Currie, on behalf of the concerned landowners, filed proceedings in the High Court late last year.

“Ideally, we would like a landowners’ meeting – there is an indication that the court will order that. It is likely that the removal of Teuira Ka as chairman of the PMI and also the newly formed MECT will be called for,” Currie said.

“It will be the landowners’ right to decide whether to have the entire PMI committee removed.

“There are so many concerns about the Trust’s proposals, some landowners are particularly worried about the moves to develop eco-tourism on Manuae.

“As a managing body, it isn’t our position to make these types of decisions; proposals must always be presented to the landowners at properly convened meetings and ultimately the decisions lie with the landowners but the problem is that there hasn’t been such a meeting outside of the one that was forced on the chairman. So, when and where was the meeting held?”

​​Manuae Enua Conservation Trust chair Ka said the Trust had gone through all the right legal processes, and was formally registered.

“At the end of the day, we are legally registered,” Ka said.

“The landowners have elected us onto the Trust, and our decisions have been passed by the majority of the committee.”

Ka said it had spoken with its lawyers and had been told there is “nothing to worry about”.

“We’re already in place, and we’re already moving forward,” he said.

Ka said there was an election planned at the PMI’s next AGM, where four members would be rotated.

According to its action plan, employing rangers, stamping out the illegal taking of pa’ua and establishing eco-tourism are top of the priority list for the Manuae Enua Conservation Trust.

Currie said she agreed with many of the ideas proposed by the Trust, but felt there were underhanded dealings to get the desired outcome – that being the MECT where lucrative project funding is received and managed.

“Momentum opposing Mr Ka and those associated with the MECT is gathering especially in light of February 7 newspaper article. It was viewed as a slap in the face to landowners and an attempt to promote the MECT,” Currie said.

“We were asking for full disclosure of the proposed plans, governing policies around managing conflicts of interest and an assurance that there will be no alienation of the land through lease sales.

“But nothing so far has been forthcoming, so we had no choice but to put it back to the court for their ruling.”

Manuae is an uninhabited atoll in the Southern Group of the Cook Islands, 100 kilometres south-east of Aitutaki, which is part of the Arutanga-Reureu-Nikaupara constituency.