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OPINION: ‘What’s the hold-up Jacinda?’

Thursday 25 March 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion


OPINION: ‘What’s the hold-up Jacinda?’
A visitor taking part in an island night event in Rarotonga. Cook Islands Tourism/21030544.

Ready when you are. That’s the message the Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce has for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government when it comes to opening the borders for two-way quarantine-free travel between the two countries.

NZ PM Ardern will be meeting with Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown tomorrow (Cook Islands time) to discuss confirming a solid date for establishing two-way quarantine free travel and hopes are high the border will be open as early as next month.

In a statement, Chamber chief executive officer Eve Hayden said: “This visit is vital to agree a firm date for two-way quarantine-free travel to begin and for it to begin as soon as possible.”

“Every day our border remains closed, that’s another million in lost tourism revenue.”

As far as the Chamber is concerned, Hayden says anything less than an announcement that the border will open in April will be a disappointment.

“There is no scientific reason to delay. The agreement made between the two prime ministers in December 2020 was for certain health and border-related measures to be in place – and our understanding is that all those matters have been resolved.”

Meanwhile, Cook Islands public debt continues to mount, with $7 million a month spent propping up the local economy via wage subsidies and various business grants.

“Both public and private sector debt levels are rising a great deal and this will cause economic scarring for years to come,” says Hayden.

Another major area of concern is the shrinking local workforce, as those struggling to make ends meet quite naturally look to New Zealand as a means of providing for their families in the Cook Islands.

Current government estimates place the net loss of workers at roughly 300 a month – and that number is growing with every passing week.

Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce president Fletcher Melvin and chief executive officer Eve Hayden. SUPPLIED/20123010

Chamber of Commerce chair Fletcher Melvin said: “What we are now seeing is an exodus of Cook Islanders going to work in New Zealand.”

“This is also coupled with our migrant workforce having to leave, which will put enormous pressure on an already stressed economy.”

The situation harks back to the country’s last major economic crisis in the mid-nineties when mass public sector redundancies forced up to 3000 workers to leave, many never to return.

“To have this happen again in 2021 will have a huge impact on the country’s economic viability and only increase our dependence on aid from close neighbours or further afield,” says Melvin.

“We’ve done our part, so the question has to be asked – what’s the hold-up Jacinda?

“Our business community has been busy while the borders have been closed – there has been a lot of upgrading of facilities and training of staff. We are ready and waiting to receive our guests.”

  • Chamber of Commerce