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Opposition Leader’s $30,000 New York ‘lunch’ draws flak

Friday 3 November 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in National, Politics

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Opposition Leader’s  $30,000 New York ‘lunch’ draws flak
Opposition leader Tina Browne. 23041222

The Leader of the Opposition has copped criticism for spending over $30,000 on a New York trip to celebrate the anniversary of a non-profit foundation that operates as a global network of female political leaders at the national level.

Tina Browne, the leader of the Democratic Party, was the second-highest-spending MP in travel, accommodation, and allowances, after Prime Minister Mark Brown, who topped the spending list at $66,702.83.

Browne used $53,693.15 of the $246,347.03 spent by 14 travelling MPs from July 1 to September 30, 2023. The annual budget for MPs’ travel and allowances for the 2023/24 financial year is $250,000.

The Rakahanga MP took three trips: to Wellington, Tonga (accompanied by her spouse), and New York. The New York trip to attend the Women Political Leaders (WPL) 10th Anniversary cost taxpayers $31,511.64: $23,308 in airfares, $4971 in accommodation, $932.64 in meals/incidentals, $800 additional allowance, and $1500 in entertainment.

The anniversary celebration, which was reportedly a two-hour lunch event followed by a meet and greet, was attended by current and former Prime Ministers and Presidents, Heads of State and Government, global women parliamentarians, and friends of WPL, according to its website.

Cook Islands News has contacted Browne to explain her New York trip and spending and how it will benefit the country. On Wednesday, she acknowledged the newspaper’s email. “I have not responded to your earlier emails as I have been very unwell since my return,” said Browne, who was in Kiribati on official travel last week.

Browne was critical of government spending at the conclusion of Prime Minister Brown’s budget speech in Parliament in June this year.

“To be frank, I cannot see any measures in this budget aimed at reducing costs. Rather it gives the impression of consistently pleading for funds from development funders to cover shortfalls,” she then said.

She went on to scold the government for having “no evidence that strict measures are being put in place to reduce the cost of running government”.

Browne also gave examples of how the government could save costs by significantly reducing “... ministerial entertainment budgets and the entertainment budget of every government ministry” adding further that “all government travel to be closely monitored and accounted for”.

She went on to suggest a freeze be placed on the purchase of any new vehicles, especially for Cabinet, Heads of Ministries, and senior officials. Browne suggested that current government vehicles be used strictly for government business only and said that it is hypocrisy when highly paid HOMs do not pay for their own gas when using their government-supplied vehicles privately.

Following the release and publication of the MPs’ travel spending, after Cook Islands News requested the information under the Official Information Act (OIA), public scrutiny of the travelling politicians from both sides of the House is more noticeable.

Some fear the country is falling back to the “bad old days” of Public Service travel where taxpayers’ money is being wasted on jaunts overseas with no reports of the usefulness or benefit to the nation of such trips. This is at a time when the country is still recovering from the Covid-19 crisis and other government programmes are suffering from a lack of funding, the critics say.

  • TB Manavaroa