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Government allocates additional funding for roads, healthcare, and renewable energy

Tuesday 20 February 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in National, Parliament


Government allocates additional funding for roads, healthcare, and renewable energy
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure Albert Nicholas, right, with Clerk of Parliament Tangata Vainerere yesterday. Infrastructure Cook Islands receives a $400,000 boost to complete road works around Rarotonga. SUPPLIED/ 24021908

Infrastructure Cook Islands receives a $400,000 boost to complete road works around Rarotonga, while pharmaceutical needs see an increase of $280,000 in the latest Supplementary Budget.

Prime Minister Mark Brown tabled the Appropriation Amendment Bill 2024 in Parliament yesterday, outlining the proposed increases. The Bill was subsequently referred to the Public Accounts Committee which will scrutinise and report on the Bill when Parliament reconvenes on February 28.

The initial budget for 2024/25, passed last June, totalled $325,610,471. As per the Amendment Bill, this figure will rise to $342,179,552.

Brown explained the government’s request for an approximately $17 million increase in appropriation, funded by additional tax revenue and development partner support.

He emphasised that this increase aims to enhance public services and strengthen infrastructure in both Rarotonga and the Pa Enua.

Approximately $9.3 million of the additional funds will be allocated to various agencies to improve service delivery, while $7.3 million will be directed towards infrastructure projects.

The Prime Minister expressed confidence in submitting the Supplementary Budget, highlighting the government’s commitment to improving the lives of Cook Islanders.

He explained that the Cook Islands Constitution allows for additional funding allocations, without parliamentary approval, up to a maximum of 1.5 per cent of the total budgetary appropriation.

As of January 2024, executive approvals totalling $3.4 million had been granted to support key initiatives throughout the financial year.

Recognising the crucial role of healthcare and the rising demand for patient referrals, both within Rarotonga and to New Zealand, Brown said the government increased funding by $1 million to ensure a robust patient referral system. This includes recent policy changes expanding coverage to private healthcare providers, with an additional $800,000 allocated in the Supplementary Budget.

The Appropriation Amendment Bill also proposes funding for other key priorities.

Infrastructure Cook Islands will receive $400,000 to complete essential road and drainage maintenance work for the remainder of the financial year, ensuring the completion of roads around the island, including Puaikura.

Addressing rising pharmaceutical costs, the budget allocates an additional $280,000 this year to guarantee access to essential medications.

Following the recent passing of the Narcotic and Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act in 2023, which legalised the importation of medicinal cannabis, Brown said the government allocated nearly $60,000 to support related initiatives proposed by the Ministry of Health. These activities include creating new regulations and policies, training healthcare personnel and border/law enforcement agencies, and establishing standard operating procedures for healthcare professionals.

The Seabed Minerals Authority receives a $310,000 boost to enhance stakeholder engagement and advance the seabed mineral sector through legal and environmental expertise.

Another budget allocation addresses renewable energy in the Pa Enua, with the government urgently allocating $220,000 to replace essential components of solar power systems.

The Ministry of Agriculture receives $280,000 to acquire machinery for community projects on Rarotonga.

Brown said: “As we move forward, it is crucial that we use these additional funds wisely, investing in projects and services that will further strengthen Cook Islands economy, benefitting our people, communities and the tourism industry that plays a pivotal role in our nation’s prosperity.”

“I believe this Supplementary Budget is true to that goal and continues to deliver for our country.”