Tuesday 21 February 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Court, Local, National
A ground breaking ceremony was held yesterday morning to mark the commencement of the nation’s first Lift/Elevator in the Cook Islands which is anticipated to be completed in August this year.
Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC) Minister Albert Nicholas says he was delighted to be part of the ceremony recognising the beginning of a significant project, which will address a major need and ensure the infrastructure is fit for purpose and serves all people effectively.
“The Ministry of Justice building in Rarotonga has major accessibility issues affecting access to public services, accessibility issues to our justice system and accessibility of employment opportunities for people with disabilities and the elderly,” said Nicholas.
“This problem has existed since the building was completed in 2004.”
Justice Secretary Tamatoa Jonassen was privileged and proud to represent the Ministry at the historical event.
“The installation of the Lift represents our commitment to ensuring Access to Justice, a fundamental human right, to a part of our community that is dear to our hearts, our vulnerable and elderly,” said Jonassen.
“Although this building is somewhat exempt from the Disability Act 2008, since the building was built prior to the legislation coming into force, the need to provide access has always been on our mind.”
To date, Justice have strived to provide that access to a limited extent through the kind support of their staff, often supporting if not actually carrying people up the stairs, he said.
Quite often staff would serve people in the parking lot and more recently they have strived to provide some access remotely through zoom video conferencing capability.
“Our wonderful staff have gone above and beyond to try to assist our community, and so we very much welcome the installation of the Lift.”
This Lift is consistent with the Ministry of Justice and CIIC efforts to provide disability access to their offices across the Cook Islands.
“The installation of the Lift for our Rarotonga headquarters represents a significant step forward in our commitment to justice.
“And I want to thank our community for their patience and support as we seek to improve our services,” Jonassen said.
For years, the Cook Islands National Disability Council - Tuki Wright, George Pitt and concerned members of the community have voiced their concerns about the lack of safe and effective access to the court house for the elderly and persons with a disability.
Pitt said ,initially there was lift included in the original design of the court house, but the secretary of Justice at the time didn’t include it in when the building was constructed.
“They tried putting in temporary lifts and all sort of things it never worked, so it’s very gratifying to see that a government department has accepted some responsibility,” said Pitt, who has been doing some court cases as a legal advocate and says the judge gets annoyed when he has to come down to the car park.
“But, it’s long overdue… they promised this would be installed this time last year so it’s taken two years to get to this point.
“Money should never be an excuse, you see government waste money… what does this cost?
“All this talk about how important people are, if people are that important this would have been done long ago,” said Pitt.
Chairperson of the Cook Islands Disability Council Tuki Wright thanked the Secretary of Justice for the Lift project.
“Access to Justice may not mean much for able bodied people, but it is certainly a great day when vulnerable groups who cannot climb the stairs now have a chance to have their voices heard, exercise their rights and access the court,” said Wright.
The Lift project went to tender in May 2022 and in July last year, Phoenix Elevators Ltd, a specialist lift supplier/installer from New Zealand with vast Pacific Island experience, was awarded the Stage 1 (design) contract.
Landholdings Ltd, a local contractor has also been engaged to work alongside the contractor to construct the lift shaft structure.
Minister Nicholas says addressing these accessibility concerns has been, and remains a priority for the Ministry of Justice and Cook Islands Investment Corporation.
“This project has taken a number of years to plan and secure funding and it is pleasing that we are finally getting this project, excuse the pun - off the ground,” said Nicholas.
Makea Karika George Ariki – Landowner, Minster Albert Nicholas, MoJ Secretary – Tamatoa Jonassen and Cook Islands Disability Council Chairperson Tuki Wright had the privilege to mark the occasion with a shovel in the foundation of the Lift site.