Official recognised for 50 years of public service

Tuesday 1 December 2020 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Local, National

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Official recognised for 50 years of public service
Tamarii Tutangata his wife Ipu (left) and CIIC staff member Kimi Tangi-Turuibewa. 20113009.

Tamarii Tutangata, who has worked closely with all former Cook Islands leaders, calls it a day. By Melina Etches.

Long serving public official Tamarii Tutangata retired on Friday after nine years in the role of chief executive officer of Cook Islands Investment Corporation.

Government celebrated Tutangata’s 50 years of public service with its first retirement dinner last week at Te Atukura grounds.

Prime Minister Mark Brown said the dinner was to acknowledge those “who really give their life in public service”.

Usually functions of the sort are held when people have passed away.

“Let this not be the first and only farewell that we have for those who have served our country, but certainly a memorable one that we can start off with…thank you for your life of dedication and service,” Brown added.

Mike Henry, the chairman of Cook Islands Investment Corporation board, also acknowledged Tutangata for his service as “one of the Cook Islands outstanding sons who has served his country, his people and the wider Pacific region over the past 50 years.”

Tutangata was born in Mauke and raised in the village of Matavera, Rarotonga by his parents Manarii Pierre Tutangata and Vaevae Emily Patetepa (nee Vaatau).

He attended Ngatangiia and Avarua primary schools and later Tereora College.

In 1963 at the age of 13, he earned a government scholarship to attend St Bede’s College in Christchurch, New Zealand.

At the age of 20 he returned to Rarotonga in 1971 – at the time the country only had three Cook Islanders as heads of departments.

At a job interview, he refused to accept a lower salary that he felt was totally inappropriate and unfair.

After two weeks of negotiations, he started work.

Thus, began his career in the public service at the Ministry of Justice.

“Even when you’re starting to work and you feel you are not being treated fairly, even in our own country, you should make a point of it right from the beginning,” Tutangata advised the people who attended the dinner.

“If I had accepted the initial salary they offered me, it would have taken seven years to get what I wanted … Right from the beginning of your career, you can make a point, if you feel you need to make a point.”

From 1971-1972, he transferred to the newly established External Affairs Division located in the Premier Department, where he was an External Affairs Officer.

At the age of 22, Papa Arapati and Cookie Sadaraka took him along to the 3rd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in Suva. The South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation which is now the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat was established at that meeting.

Papa Arapati and Sadaraka had to return home urgently and instructed Tutangata to lead the Cook Islands delegation - they had faith in a young Cook Islander to take the lead in a significant conference.

“I have been very fortunate throughout my career to have been given opportunities like that, by our leaders. Not just in the Cook Islands but also regionally,” said Tutangata.

In 1972-1973 he was the Acting Head of the External Affairs division at the age of 23.

After a year he took on the role permanently and also served as the chairman of the SPEC (Forum Secretariat) Committee of officials and the South Pacific Commission’s Planning and Evaluation Committee.

In 1975, he moved to Fiji to work for the South Pacific Commission now named The Pacific Community (SPC) through to 1978 where he was an assistant research office for the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Co-operation.


From left: Eddie Drollet, Kiriau Turepu, Tamarii Tutangata, Tou Ariki and Mata Nooroa and the government retirement dinner last Thursday. 20113010.

He returned to Rarotonga in 1978 and served as the Executive Officer of the Ministry of Planning and External Affairs.

Here he worked directly with the Prime Minister securing the interest of distant water fishing nations such as South Korea, Japan, the former USSR and Taiwan.

Negotiations consisted of access to a fishing agreement with the Cook Islands into the newly declared 200 mile exclusive economic zone.

Tutangata also coordinated the negotiations with South Korea, the USSR and the USA in 1979-1980. This led to the first fisheries access agreement being signed with South Korea and a treaty of friendship with the USA in early 1980.

Between 1979-1980, he acted as the Secretary of the Premier’s Department, Secretary to Cabinet and Clerk of the Executive council.

In 1980, Tutangata moved offshore to Noumea, New Caledonia, as a Senior Administer for the SPC; he was the first to hold this role under the age of 30.

Between 1981-1982, he became the director of Administration/ Deputy-Director of Programmes in Noumea; in 1984, he was promoted to the Director of Programme role for SPC – the first Pacific islander to hold this position.

Returning home again in 1987, he served as an adviser to the Prime Minister and to the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development until 1989.

He took roles as the secretary to the PM Departments, Director of the 6th Festive Pacific Arts and Secretary of Cultural Development from 1993-1996.


Tamarii Tutangata, seated, with Cook Islands Investment Corporation employees and new chief executive officer Allan Jensen (right). 20113006.

In December 1996, Tutangata was offered the prestigious role of Director of the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in Apia, Samoa, a post that he held until 2002.

He relocated to Auckland, New Zealand, where he held various consultancy roles.

On his return to the Cook Islands in 2006, he was appointed the chairman of the Te Aponga Uira Board for two years; the Secretary of Internal Affairs in 2007, a role he had held until being appointed the chief executive of Cook Islands Investment Corporation in 2011.

Tutangata has been involved in various projects at CIIC during his years as CEO: the rebuild of Apii Nikao and Tereora, the establishment of numerous entities like Avaroa Cable and To Tatou Vai; the resolution of many land tenure issues and the strengthening of the organisation and group to deliver effective and efficient public assets for the Cook Islands people.

He has served closely with the leaders of our nation: Premier Althe bert Henry, Sir Thomas Davis, Sir Pupuke Robati, Sir Geoffrey Henry, Henry Puna and Mark Brown.

Tutangata has never actually belonged to any political party.

His belief being, “if I wanted to serve my country well, then I should be neutral when it comes to politics – which can work against you.

He also stated, “A really important ingredient is having a wife who understands what you do.

“There were times it was pretty trying for her. I needed to satisfy myself that I had given my all to whatever I did, part of my practise in working, not the hours you do but what you produce…”

Tutangata paid tribute to the staff and board of directors at CIIC: “What we all know is, you cannot achieve anything on your own working for any government agency, it’s all team work. I have been very fortunate I’ve had very supportive board of directors.”

“I’m confident CIIC is in good hands with Allan Jensen, the staff and the Minister.”

Sonny Williams was the emcee for the evening, Mata Nooroa spoke on behalf of the State-Owned Enterprises, Jeanne Matenga and Vaine Arioka from Bank of Cook Islands, and Seabed Minerals Commissioner Alex Herman also spoke on the night.