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Airport upgrades key to unleashing economic potential of Pa Enua: PM

Friday 21 June 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Economy, Local, National, Outer Islands, Parliament

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Airport upgrades key to unleashing economic potential of Pa Enua: PM
Assistant to the Minister responsible for Manihiki Airport and Manihiki MP, Akaiti Puna, left, with Health Minister Rose Toki-Brown in Parliament yesterday. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU/24062005

Prime Minister Mark Brown emphasises that the Manihiki Airport upgrade is not a political promise or a vote buying attempt but a project designed to improve the lives of people in the Pa Enua (outer islands).

Brown, who is also the Minister for Finance, says similar projects are planned for other Northern Group islands.

While closing the debate on the principles and merit of the Appropriation Bill 2024-2025 in Parliament on Wednesday, Brown referred to the recent Mangaia Bicentennial Celebrations saying “close to 2000 people” travelled to Mangaia for the celebration.

“If Mangaia had a sealed runway that could land on an aircraft, instead of 55 flights heading to Mangaia, that same number would have been accommodated with 18 flights.”

Brown gave this example to highlight the key infrastructure projects to lift the standard of living in the outer islands.

He said they acknowledge that a return on such an investment, like the Manihiki airport project, would take a long time but pointed to the positive returns seen from similar investments in Rarotonga Airport 50 years ago and Aitutaki 20 years ago.

Brown said with the significant millions invested in those airports, it took that long for those economies to build and to take advantage of this investment in infrastructure, resulting in “an economy that generates $600 million a year”.

“And that of course is generated from the economy of Rarotonga and Aitutaki, very small contributions from the rest of our islands. And it will remain small, or less, until we make the investment that enables them to join our economy.”

Brown added that Manihiki will be the template for how similar projects will be carried out in the other Northern Group islands. The government will look into sealing the runways on those islands as well.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration Tingika Elikana says the decision by the government and the Prime Minister to look beyond Rarotonga for economic prosperity is important.

“If you apply a pure economic assessment, your conclusion will be that its money wasted, but that is not how we see it. It is an important economic development and the returns will take some time.”
Elikana adds it will enable the expansion of the tourism industry because there is a lot of concern about Rarotonga capacity to hold the ever-increasing number of tourists.
He also explained that a sealed and improved airport would lead to lower fares, making the Northern Group islands more accessible.

Elikana added that sealing the airports in Pukapuka and Penrhyn is also part of the government’s plans, following the Manihiki project.