Disappointed with the governing Cook Islands Party, a supporter is running as an Independent candidate for the vacant Manihiki seat in the upcoming by-election.
Manihiki is grappling with depopulation and a
struggling pearl industry, which local businessman Temu Okotai sees as the
northern group island’s primary concerns.
Traditionally a staunch Cook Islands Party
(CIP) supporter, Okotai over the weekend announced his candidacy for the vacant
Manihiki seat in the by-election to be held on May 5.
The seat has been left vacant following the
resignation of former prime minister and island’s MP Henry Puna, who is taking
up the Pacific Islands Forum’s Secretary General role.
Okotai said the Cook Islands Parry already had
its own candidate. He also said the candidate was not someone he supported.
It’s yet to be confirmed but widely understood
that Akaiti Puna, wife of Henry Puna, is contesting under the Cook Islands
But Okotai says he is also dissatisfied by
what the party has done for Manihiki and he is “quite prepared to help” the
people on the island.
“I can’t believe there is not anybody capable
of standing in Manihiki,” said Okotai, adding “it’s time for a change”.
“I’m running for the Manihiki Party.”
When the pearl industry was strong 20 years
ago, Okotai said the island was home to just under 800 people. Now it’s
dwindled to a quarter of that and Okotai said this was partially due to the
struggling pearl industry.
He said last year up to 20,000 black pearls
were produced, which he thinks is hardly enough for Rarotonga alone.
“It’s an important part of our tourism
industry. If people can’t get the pearls
here, they will look to Tahiti.”
Okotai, who is also a pearl farmer, wants to
see the industry turned around, “if we do a good job, we may attract people
According to the owner of Cook Islands Tours,
at the moment the island has more people working in government jobs than in the
But it’s not just the pearl industry Okotai
will be focusing in the upcoming by election, he believes the island has lots
of resources to offer.
Tapping into the island’s paua (giant clams)
supply is something he said has “a lot of potential” with possible
opportunities to export to the United States.
He also said the island’s coconut trees could
be used to make coconut honey, which could “underpin a new industry for
Manihiki and the northern group”.
The small population is also a concern for the
new candidate. Okotai said with fewer people on Manihiki, running sustainable
services becomes harder, adding there “needs to be a bit more creative
He strongly believes the island needs a
doctor, which will end up being a money saver because it will mean fewer
emergency flights when people need medical attention.
The Opposition Democratic Party is yet to announce their candidate for Manihiki by-election.