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Pardon for Papa Arapati long overdue: PM Brown

Thursday 2 November 2023 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in National, Politics


Pardon for Papa Arapati  long overdue: PM Brown
The late Albert Royale Henry’s family, King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters and Lady Tuaine with Prime Minister Mark Brown at Government House in Titikaveka. SUPPLIED / 23110101

Cook Islands ‘godfather of modern politics’ and first premier, the late Albert Royale Henry or better known as Papa Arapati, has been given a formal pardon by the King’s Representative (KR) Sir Tom Marsters.

The first pardon to be exercised by the King’s Representative was held behind closed doors at Government House in Titikaveka yesterday.

In his speech supplied to the Cook Islands News, Prime Minister Mark Brown said that the decision was fitting as the country prepares for the opening of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting on Monday, November 6.

The late Papa Arapati had participated in the first regional meeting more than 50 years ago which was then known as the South Pacific Forum. The former leader had championed the Forum’s establishment, Brown said.

Brown, who began his speech by quoting Luke 6:37, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven,” said they could not continue to deny Papa Arapati the acknowledgment and credit he so rightfully deserves as he led the country during a time of great political transformation.

He said Papa Arapati’s long list of notable and outstanding achievements and his extraordinary life impacted thousands of Cook Islanders at home and around the world.

“The tireless work he did in advocating for our independence and sovereignty, for the right of Cook Islanders to elect their own government, to govern ourselves as a nation of 15 islands for the benefit of our people, these are the things that Papa Arapati is remembered for.” 

Papa Arapati was first elected premier of the Cook Islands in 1965 and was unseated in the 1978 election after an electoral petition had found he had committed electoral fraud which also led to him losing his knighthood.

On 16 August 1979, he pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiracy and one charge of corruption relating to the use of $337,000 of Cook Islands Government money to fly hundreds of supporters from New Zealand to the Cook Islands in order to vote.

He was fined the maximum of $1400, ordered to pay $2000 in court costs. A further sentence of three years’ probation, “imposed solely to bar him from running for political office or participating in political life for that period”, was overturned on appeal.

In August this year, the Executive Council approved the decision for the KR to pardon Papa Arapati, following the recommendation of the Chair of the Parole Board, Chief Justice Patrick Keane, in accordance with the Criminal Records Act 1991.

Brown said the Board received the application by Papa Arapati’s grandson Howard Henry for the “posthumous pardon”.

In order that Papa Arapati be pardoned by the King’s Representative for his 1978 offences, the Prime Minister said the Board had to be satisfied, after inquiry, that “those convictions should no longer reflect adversely on his character”.

“Papa Arapati’s offences, to which he pleaded guilty with on the advice of legal counsel, were serious. But the fact was, he pleaded guilty. He accepted personal responsibility and assumed full accountability for his actions. An action taken by a man of honour and one he never spoke about again in public,” Brown said.

“This pardon for Papa Arapati has been a long time coming - far too long in my very humble opinion. A sentiment I believe is shared by my fellow elected members of Parliament past and present and the Cook Islands people.

“Forgiveness is one of the most powerful expressions of love and we owe Papa Arapati a great debt of gratitude and love for all that he did for our country and for our people.”

Brown said a motion was tabled in Parliament on June 4, 2004 by the Prime Minister of the time Dr. Robert Woonton, recommending that the Queen’s Representative at the time, Sir Frederick Goodwin, exercise in Papa Arapati’s favour, the Prerogative of Mercy and Pardon.

It was passed unanimously by all Members of Parliament, he said.

“As the speeches made at that time confirmed, the resolution was carried unanimously because all Members agreed that Albert Henry’s life of public service had been so extraordinary, and his contribution to the Cook Islands and its peoples so unique, that those convictions should no longer reflect adversely on his character.

“Those speeches also affirmed that all considered those convictions should be vacated. They had become, Prime Minister Woonton said at the time, a source of disunity, which only a pardon could cure; a theme echoed by others who spoke in the debate.”
PM Brown said it was highly unfortunate however, that at the end of that Parliamentary term in 2004, the Queen’s Representative Sir Frederick was not invited to exercise the Prerogative of Mercy and Pardon, and that the resolution itself lapsed.

“This year, the Executive Council believed unanimously it was now proper to revive that resolution and to give it effect. Relying on that resolution – set against the whole trajectory of his remarkable life, his convictions should no longer reflect adversely on his character.

“Papa Arapati epitomised what it meant to be a proud Cook Islander. A rightful legacy to remember the first leader of our modern country.”


· Papa Arapati was the founder and first leader of the Cook Islands Party.

· In August 1965 when the Cook Islands became self-governed, he was the first Premier.

· The Cook Islands party had proposed the creation of the House of Ariki before self-government, and he oversaw its implementation.

· He introduced a universal superannuation scheme to be funded by a new philatelic bureau.

· He opposed French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

· In 1966 he raised income and sales taxes to reduce dependence on New Zealand.

· In his second term as Premier he made a controversial agreement with the New Zealand government for them to fund an upgrade of Rarotonga International Airport in exchange for control of airspace rights

· His government also agreed to a plan to revitalise Mauke by developing the citrus industry.

· In 1969 he chaired the annual meeting of the South Pacific Commission which saw island countries take control and elect Harry Moors as secretary-general.

· In 1970 he advocated for the creation of a political forum to operate alongside the Commission and provide a voice for Pacific nations therefore creating the South Pacific Forum.

· In 1973 he introduced a new national flag for the Cook Islands, consisting of a circle of 15 gold stars on a green ensign.

· In 1974 he hosted a royal visit from Elizabeth II, during which he was knighted.

He died of a heart attack in 1981 at the age of 73.