OPINION: Focus on reducing barriers to private sector success, PM says

Tuesday 1 June 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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OPINION: Focus on reducing barriers to private sector success, PM says
Arriving tourists greeted by Kia Orana ambasasdors Aunty Lydia and Aunty Nane at the Rarotonga International Airport. 21052120

A recession is not the time to cut government spending, it is a time when government is expected to front up and stimulate the economy, writes Prime Minister Mark Brown.

What a lot has happened this past fortnight.

With the arrival of our first tourists in more than a year two weeks ago, we are already starting to see the positive effects of the extra dollars that are now beginning to circulate within our economy.

Resorts are welcoming guests again, business for cafes and other retailers is starting to pick up, and our Punanga Nui market is looking more lively than it has been in quite some time.

It is still early days of course, and we still have a fair way to travel before we can become truly self-sustaining as an economy again, but to see the changes that are already taking place certainly lifts my spirits – and I hope it lifts yours as well.

At the same time, I have to say that the rollout of our Covid-19 vaccination programme has been nothing short of phenomenal so far. The positive comments from the public have been overwhelming.

Well over 8000 people on Rarotonga have now received their first dose of the life-saving Pfizer vaccine and even as you read this our Te Marae Ora vaccination team is continuing their good work on the island of Aitutaki.

Full credit for this remarkable achievement goes to both our incredibly dedicated team of TMO staff and volunteers and to the people of Rarotonga themselves, who turned out in their droves to help protect themselves and others from the spread of Covid-19.

While our Ui Ariki, our MPs and our church leaders led the way, I myself joined the last of the Rarotonga population on the weekend to receive my first vaccination jab. The whole process was efficient, painless and gave me the immense satisfaction and great pride in a job well done, an important step taken in our defence against Covid-19 and the protection of our nation.

So to all those in Rarotonga and now Aitutaki who have also stepped up for that vital first dose of vaccine, I offer a sincere and heartfelt thank you, on behalf of myself, your Members of Parliament, and all the people of the Cook Islands.

I now look forward to hearing further good news on the progress of our vaccination programme in Aitutaki and the rest of our Pa Enua in the weeks ahead.

And as the vaccine rollout progresses, so too does our national Economic Recovery Roadmap (ERR) – a pathway to recovery for all Cook Islanders.

Over the past 15 months your government has been doing all it can to support our economy by way of the Economic Response Plan (ERP). Our goal was to prevent as many businesses as possible from closing down permanently – and we have achieved that.

Now that the border has reopened and our people are being vaccinated, our focus must turn from support to recovery.

Accordingly, our 2021-22 budget is not about government handouts. It is about creating an environment which will not only assist with economic recovery but will also foster an even more prosperous future for us all.

A recession is not the time to cut government spending, it is a time when government is expected to front up and stimulate the economy. Therefore, we will be focusing some of our budget on reducing the barriers to private sector success, with a particular focus on reducing costs and improving the ease of doing business in the Cook Islands.

One of those barriers is the cost of finance through the high rate of interest charged by our banking sector. Businesses need to be able to access affordable finance to invest in capital and support their own future growth.

Another barrier is the extent of red tape caused by our existing regulatory framework. Often it is the government’s own policies and procedures which hamper the success of both new business start-ups and existing businesses alike.

To support business success, we need both greater local and tourist demand. We need a stronger local market and that means retaining and growing our resident population and labour force. This is true for Rarotonga and even more critical across our Pa Enua.

Finally, we need more efficient government. Not necessarily smaller, but certainly more effective – being able to do more with what we have.

We must remember that government does not exist for its own sake. Nor does it exist to create dependencies, rather it exists to help our people across all fronts.

At the end of the day, your government is for you. It exists primarily to support an economy which provides an improved standard of living and wellbeing for our people – for all of us who call the Cook Islands our home.