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Letter: Public interest or not?

Wednesday 18 October 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion


Letter: Public interest or not?
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

Dear Editor, 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 industry:

  • 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 relocated.

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 development.

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 be heading.

Kia Manuia.

Tina Browne

Leader of the Opposition