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Government and Opposition leader clash over motives behind CIIC Bill

Thursday 23 May 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Local, National, Parliament


Government and Opposition leader clash over motives behind CIIC Bill
Opposition Leader Tina Browne. MELINA ETCHES / 24051509

Parliament passed a bill to amend the qualifications for appointing directors to the Cook Islands Investment Corporation, with disagreements between the government and opposition on whether the amendment was designed for a specific person.

Opposition leader Tina Browne claims the Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC) Amendment Bill, passed last Wednesday, was tailored for a specific candidate, particularly the director position mentioned in the bill.

The amendment alters the qualification for appointment as director of CIIC. Previously, directors required at least two years of experience in a statutory corporation or state-owned enterprise. Now, appointees can have this experience as a director and senior manager of a statutory corporation or organisation comparable with a statutory corporation.

Speaking to Cook Islands News, Browne said: “The amendment said that one of the qualifications is that you have to have been a director of another government agency. So that’s the current legislation. What they amended it into is to widen the scope and say that you needed to be a director on another agency comparable.”

“So in other words, what they’re saying is that not enough people qualify to be directors and they’ve expanded the criteria so that the criteria are now a little bit wide. My concern was that, like other legislation they’ve introduced, it’s to suit an applicant.

“According to them, no, that’s not what they’re doing … I said, well, that’s what you did for the Police and for the Ombudsman.  It was tailor-made legislation.”

However, in Parliament last week, CIIC Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Albert Nicholas, who introduced the bill, reiterated that it had no hidden agenda, as the Opposition Leader had suggested.

Nicholas said the bill was not amended to cater for a mysterious individual looking for a job but to widen the net and capture more people who are qualified in their own right.

Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC) Minister Albert Nicholas during a break in Parliament on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU / 24051514

The purpose of the bill, according to Parliament’s explanatory note, was to adjust the criteria for appointing directors of the CIIC – the agency that manages Crown assets including Government land, buildings and interests on Rarotonga and the Pa Enua (outer islands), and governance of Crown enterprises.

The Opposition Cook Islands United Party leader Teariki Heather, who supported the bill, said: “It seems they want to correct some mistakes and it appears some were appointed to this position without the authority of the Act.”

However, Browne, who is also the leader of the Democratic Party, expressed doubt that the bill was intended to rectify a mistake.

“I suggest it is designed for someone earmarked for this position because the amendment makes it flexible.”

The Opposition Matavera MP Vaitoti Tupa said he supported the merit of the bill because it encouraged the appointment of good people in the administration.

Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Tingika Elikana agreed with the MPs who highlighted the importance of the bill.

“Where we differ in opinion is the intent behind this bill and contrary to the remarks made by Opposition Leader, it is not the intent of this bill to accommodate a person in particular. It is the intent of this bill to correct an oversight that has come to the floor when we look at those who qualify to be directors on any board.”

Prime Minister Mark Brown said the amendment allowed people with suitable qualifications to serve on the board.

Brown added that one of the amendments pushed through in 2019 was designed to encourage people to put forward their names to be considered for board directors.

“And from what I understand there is a pool of qualified or interested board members who have provided their CVs into the pool for consideration as members, another tool the government initiated to allow us to have a good robust process to ensure we have good people on this board,” he said.

“Let us be reminded it is not just people that go on the board that are good with numbers or have degrees although we need people of that calibre on a number of our boards. We also need people who have a sense of humanity, everyday people who know the struggles and hardships of life, so that when we have board discussions the board looks at essentially the bottom line of the balance sheet and also need someone who look at what the bottom line is and impact on the people.”

The bill comes into force on the day after the date is assented to by the King’s Representative.