The relocation of the road to maximise the commercial potential of the Crown’s hotel, was also, very clearly, in the “public interest”, says Opposition Leader Tina Browne. Photo: LOSIRENE LACANIVALU / 23100421
Perhaps Mrs Tina Browne would care to comment publicly, now as leader of the Opposition, but way back appearing for the landowner in the December, 1989 confirmation of alienation hearing concerning the “Sheraton Hotel” lease, with Justice Dillon presiding. When asked by Justice Dillon “…do you consider the arrangement now proposed to be in the public interest”. Mrs. Browne replied “…I do.”
Could Mrs. Browne elaborate on how the new proposed Ring Road around the
back of the hotel and the closing off of the coastal road forcing the general
public to drive all the way around, constitutes public interest?
(Name and address supplied)
Clearly neither you nor your correspondent have read the 1989 Commission
of Inquiry Report into whether or not the Italian Hotel Project should proceed.
That report queried the need for Government to assume the commercial
risk of building the hotel.
However, the report confirmed a number of matters – and none of these
were challenged at that time and stage of development of the country’s tourism
A cross party consensus that the Cook Islands should aim for a relatively small number of high yield tourists.
A need to increase premium class air travellers to the country.
In those days, pre-internet, Rarotonga needed to host at least one 4–5-star tourism property with an international branded hotel management company, such as Sheraton, Hilton, etc. committed to the necessary worldwide marketing and promotion
That would dramatically increase our exposure on the world market and allow us to compete effectively, for the first time, with 4/5-star destinations Fiji and Tahiti.
The financial impracticality of attracting such an operator for a development unless the hotel had at least 150 rooms, and was built in a premium location – given the cost to that operator of that worldwide promotion and marketing.
The Government of the day chose to assume the commercial risk of
proceeding; at that point, the “public interest” was 100% tied up in making
sure the hotel was as successful as possible – failure of the project would
lead to catastrophic consequences for “the public”.
As we all know, it did fail, and that failure did have terrible
consequences – my point is, that failure proves the “public interest”, back in
1990, of maximising the chances of success.
The need, then, was to identify a premium location; Pa’s (Pa Terito)
land was identified by Government as ideal – provided the road could be
The road, of course, was Crown property; Government would need to give
up that roadway, and would need a longer roadway for a ring road. Pa was
approached and she agreed both to lease the land, and to allow the road to be
relocated – all this as being in the “public interest”.
This was not Pa asking Government to move the road; this was Government
asking Pa to agree to it being moved in the “public interest”.
Acting as I did for Pa at the time, it was clear that while the very
large land being leased (from the seashore to the mountains) was worth
considerably more than the sum offered by the lessee, Essington, Pa would
receive other benefits – one of which was the restoration of the land to true
beachfront; that would be of lasting benefit to Pa.
The relocation of the road to maximise the commercial potential of the
Crown’s hotel, was also, very clearly, in the “public interest”.
No-one in their right mind, in 1990, would have approved or supported
exposing the public to the risk of spending that huge sum of money on a hotel
that was unsuccessful because the property was not beachfront, but instead had
a main road running right across the ocean-facing view.
Essington, the lessee was to be 100% owned by the Cook Islands
Government. If the hotel succeeded, the public would benefit; if it failed, the
public would suffer.
For this reason, there was a very strong public interest in
re-routing the road to maximise the commercial success of the hotel
It is no fault of Pa that the Hotel was never completed; it is no fault
of Pa that Government walked away from the land. It is, I think, quite unfair
for anyone to suggest the Crown should not relocate the road now Pa has found a
developer who is actually making something of the buildings.
Both as a lawyer and as Leader of the Opposition, I understand that for
the Crown to renege on its promise to relocate the road would need an Act of
Parliament and would require compensation to be paid to Pa Ariki – probably
running into millions of dollars.
As Leader of the Opposition, and having an interest in the ‘rule of
law’, I understand Government’s decision to honour the Crown’s legal
obligation. All of us should focus on making sure the relocated road is safe
and well-engineered – that is where all this talk of “public interest” should