Year that was…letters to the Editor

Thursday 3 January 2013 | Published in Letters to the Editor

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One of the many pleasures in the Cook Islands is a right to free speech, something shared daily in Cook Islands News’ Letters to the Editor section.

The letters are a chance for people to spread the weird, the wacky, the wonderful, or voice their opinions on current affairs affecting the Cook Islands.

Cook Islands published hundreds of letters throughout the year – here we sample a few that had people talking in 2012.

Licences a national disaster

Dear Editor,

I’m not sure how the meeting concluded between the Empire (Lord Darth Vader Bishop & MMR) and the local fishermen last week. Tapi Taio and various others who have raised the issue of foreign entities given licence to fish in Cook Islands waters are absolutely correct in their concerns. This is a national disaster and will harm the tourism industry.

I’m appalled that the restaurant and hotel industry has not challenged government on this critical issue. If you can’t buy local fish how are you going to offer it on your menu? SORRY, CATCH OF THE DAY, CANNED TUNA! Tourists who go to the Pacific Islands expect fresh fish, it’s just the image one gets of islands in the sun with plenty of seafood.

Unfortunately for the Cook Islands that’s now a distorted view, the romance of local fishermen pulling up in the boats with fresh fish caught that day is now an illusion. Cook Islands Tourism Corporation should be worried! When my friends ask me about the Cooks as a holiday destination I proudly show off pictures on my phone from visits over the past four years and tell them how beautiful our islands are. The next question is always about cuisine and unanimously fresh fish the topic. What can I say? Oh, yeah, we import fish from NZ!

I have written several letters over the past couple of years about this issue in the hope of raising awareness amongst local businesses and the general population over there to debate and take it up with government. At the end of the day, all of you will suffer in the end.

Leave local fishing to our fishermen to provide for the people, encourage joint ventures for local industry. Protect our waters and create a marine reserve and foster recreational sports fishing. This will bring far greater long term and sustainable economic benefits to our islands than this stupid decision by Bishop and his cronies to sell our fish for a few dollars.

It’s embarrassing to recommend the Cook Islands as a destination to many of my friends here in Sydney when I can’t guarantee there’ll be beautiful local fish on the menu!

Concerned Cookie

Sydney

January 17

Go loco!

Dear Editor,

I thought this parable below would be fitting for the CISNOC

and what is happening with our country:

Henry Puna is my Shepherd

I shall not want

He leadeth me beside still offices and an incompetent CISNOC

He restoreth my doubt in the CIP Party

He annointeth my vote with overseas travel

While my income pays for Air NZ subsidies and CISNOC debts

My expenses runneth over my income

Surely poverty and hard living shall follow the CIP party

And I shall pray for the dole and live in a rented house forever

Just like the man I voted for

Go loco

February 28

Ripping off the little people

Dear Editor,

The ongoing saga of this boat from Samoa has in fact turned out to be just another money-making venture by some ‘wanna-be, make-a-name-for-himself’ so-called public servant, who in partnership with the goons in the present Cook Islands government has once again succeeded in a scheme to ‘screw’ and ‘rip-off’ the little people of the northern group, and in particular, the Pukapukans.

This is the general feeling from the people widely affected by the whole saga.

Everything, it seems – right from the very start, when they first announced that they were going to send a boat to northern group, up until the last minute, when they sent emails confirming that they had never intended to charter the boat. Especially after we had all sent money for our goods orders to Samoa.

Today we’re now ‘forced’ to pay mostly 40 percent freight and up to 100 percent freight with some items.

Today I hear on the coconut-wireless the northern group politicians in Rarotonga are going to have a meeting about the whole saga. I don’t think anyone up north will be holding their breath waiting for anything to come of it until we “see it with our own eyes”. We wait.

Pio Lavalua

Pukapuka

April 10

Young athletes rise above criticism

Dear Editor,

Having read your sports news today online, specifically around ‘We want support, not criticism’, I wanted to help people understand the current life of a 17-year-old athlete.

Monday to Friday:

- Start training 5.30am till 8am clocking up over 5km of swimming

- Attend college start 9am to 3pm,

- Start work as a qualified swim teacher 4.30-6:30,

- Gym session 7.30pm.

- 8.30pm rest, eat, sleep then repeat next day etc...

Getting up in winter at 5am is the pits! But when I watch my daughter fly in that water, I am a proud mother and a proud Cook Islander.

Beyond the above, Celeste also teaches music (flute). She went through 10 weeks worth of intensive training to become a qualified swim teacher at the start of 2012. Under AUSTSWIM she can teach anywhere in the country and beyond.

She hopes one day to return this awesome opportunity to represent her country to her people in the Cook Islands.

In her fourth year of representing the Cook Islands, she also undertook early morning religious studies. I know Patty Taea also has similar commitments as a youth as both Celeste and Patty belong to the same church.

Celeste is a proud Cook Islander and a cousin to Ella Nicholas. They share the same great grandparents. Ella’s father and I are cousins on our Aitutaki line. Also a cousin to Sam Pera Jnr.

We need everyone to support our youth to remain focused and alert and be able to withstand the criticisms – these are for those who have too much time on their hands.

These athletes are trained to rise above and beyond the noise. They are strong and I am so ever proud of each of them. I went to Singapore last year and got involved raising my Cook Islands flag high into the sky.

I say, Go Team Cook Islands!

I will be watching like a hawk when these kids march into the arena at the opening ceremony and I can’t wait! What a wonderful opportunity.

Alice Brown

(Celeste Brown’s mother)

April 19

Olympic jokes keep coming

Dear Editor,

While your cartoons of Hagar and the Phantom raise a smile, and Kata is world class, nothing beats the ongoing circus of the Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee (CISNOC).

Excuses, arguments over procedures and responsibilities, awards to the secretary general, funding for sports not even played in the Cook Islands for athletes who have never lived here, on it goes.

We are now blessed with the visit of executives from ONOC who are going to help sweep the problems under the carpet. In a lengthy memo dated 28 March 2012, one ONOC official mentioned everything, except the heart of the problem, ie where is the money and the accounting?!

In December last year I wrote a letter to your paper putting some numbers to the financial disaster of CISNOC. Based on CISNOC’s figures, losses were $154,821 for the 2010 year and $492,875 to November 2011. Here we are four months later, with the AGM today, and CISNOC has yet again failed to deliver their accounts to the sport codes prior to the AGM as required in their constitution. What is the real problem? What are they hiding?

Let’s face the facts. CISNOC is one of the biggest local financial disasters we have created. Bigger ones were the government crises in the late 1990s (who was the prime minister?), the Tepaki Group (who was the chairman?) and PDL (who was the chairman?). Under the present board of CISNOC, hundreds of thousands of dollars of sports people’s money have been lost.

We hear so much from sports administrators of “legacy”. Well, the ongoing legacy of the last two years’ mismanagement will be debts, and minimal funding for sports for years to come.

If the government continues to tolerate and fund this mismanagement, they can count on my vote, against them.

Taxpayer

(Name and address supplied)

May 4

Are we promoting shark fishing?

Dear Editor,

Last letter I reported that MMR refused to allow me to have a copy of the licences they have issued for exploratory fishing licences.

My main objection to the issuing of the exploratory long line licences has always been the increase in the number of licences when I believe the resource is already showing signs of damage. I am opposed to purse seine licences for the same reasons.

However, I also have concerns at what I am told the terms of the access agreement and licences are. Because I can’t get a copy of the access agreement and licences, I have to rely on what other people tell me and what I read in newspaper releases by MMR.

My first concern is not having independent observers on board each vessel. I am told it is normal practice now under international standards to have independent observers on the majority of if not all fishing boats, because it has proven impossible to rely on information provided by fishing boats.

MMR say they are requiring only five percent of boats to carry an observer, and in fact appear to be relying on observers placed on “mother ships” and recording catch not as it is loaded off the fishing boats, but as it is loaded off the mother ship in Pago. This surprises me when we all know the purpose of this exploratory fishing is to get information about the resource.

There are 101 reasons for a fishing boat not to report its catch accurately, and MMR have given 12 of the 14 boats the opportunity to make false reports. Why on earth has MMR done this, particularly since it involves exploratory fishing, instead of sticking to normal international standards?

For many years, Asian fishing boats have targeted shark, cutting off their fins and throwing the carcasses back overboard. With shark fin prices at approx $1000 per kg ($1 million per tonne), sharks have become at the same time a targeted and threatened species.

Protective measures have recently been adopted internationally to reduce the shark catch. These include prohibiting use of wire traces, (so that sharks and toothy mammals can bite their way free) and requiring fishing boats to bring back the carcass as well as the fins, (the carcasses are worthless). Other countries such as the USA have additional restrictions on landing and transshipment of shark fin.

For its part, the Cook Islands has prohibited the use of wire traces and requires boats to keep the shark carcasses. These are included in the Shark Management Plan adopted under the Marine Resources Act.

With this background, I was very surprised therefore to be told MMR are allowing Chinese registered fishing boats to use wire traces. If these fishing boats are permitted to use wire traces, and there are no observers on board the fishing boats to record the “by catch” (which is where sharks are recorded), and we allow these fishing boats to transship the fins out of the Cook Islands, then there is real opportunity for those boats to target shark for fins.

Now I don’t really like sharks anymore than the next fishermen, and I understand with shark fin selling at $1million per tonne there might be really good money floating around for someone, but if word gets out that the Cook Islands is actively promoting shark fishing, our international reputation is going to suffer.

This is going to extend beyond fisheries (forget selling “Golden Tuna” anywhere else except in China!) into other areas such as tourism.

Hopefully MMR can tell me I have got it all wrong and a) independent observers are carried on all fishing boats, b) use of wire traces is prohibited, c) transhipment of shark fin is not permitted from the Cook Islands, and d) the fishing companies being licensed do not have a record of involvement in shark fishing. I suggest you don’t hold your breath while waiting for an answer on this one!

Reuben Tylor

Editor: MMR is making it very difficult to obtain information about catch rates and details of exploratory licences, and our own requests are now being lodged under the Official Information Act.

June 15

Let’s stay hush-hush

Dear Editor,

I heard that Luen Thai fishing company is going into business with another company, taking our fish right before our very eyes.

We do not agree with this agreement between the company and marine resources. I second what opposition leader Wilkie Rasmussen said to Teina Bishop last week that the shark fin saga was a cover up.

Numerous calls to Cook Islands News last week before even going to parliament is evidence that shark fins were caught on board a Luen Thai vessel by the New Zealand navy ship, oops, but hey, now that the billionaire director is here, let’s stay hush-hush aye Mr Bishop.

So who is the richest minister of all, well not the prime minister seeing we have a billionaire here on our island, connecting with the ministry of marine resources, shareholders, yeah whatever. So is $100,000 too cheap at the end of the day?

Google news reported that Luen Thai fishing company sold a blue-eyed tuna weighing 1.2 tonnes aggregate for 3.4 million dollars and sold it to McDonalds for their fish burgers. See when you compare two billion dollars to $100,000 annually that’s merely 0.0005 percent of profit and that’s how much we receive.

It’s no wonder we are in debt, what a shame, a bunch of guys with no real academics, just a business to prove its worth. How about $100,000,000 so we can collect five percent of the annual product. Anyway you do the maths and hopefully we still do not be called by the world low class bum-lickers by accepting $100,000 from a multi-billion dollar company.

Richest company in the Asia Pacific region, with the Pacific basin being the largest in the world, don’t get bummed around by the rich and famous.

Jesus said those who are ruining the earth, truly I say to you I will bring them to ruin.

Shark bait

June 27

Trial confirms we are out of date

Dear Editor,

Tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars have been expended for the exercise dubbed Operation Eagle.

The eagle is a noble bird of prey and this Shakespearian play might have better have been named Operation Chicken. The cannabis plant has been used by mankind for thousands of years. In over half of the states of the US of A, cannabis is all but fully legal thorough the intelligently crafted and so-called “medical marijuana” legislation of those states that have had the sense to step out of the morass of misinformation and scaremongering that has plagued this herb for recent generations.

If we put the same effort money and resources into the medical, physical and social harm caused by the far more harmful drugs alcohol and nicotine, we too might join the 21st century.

What did we learn from the trial besides confirmation that we are so far out of date?

We learned that the weed trade in Rarotonga is worth some hundreds of thousands of dollars, that we are as talented at growing weed as we are pawpaw, that we have young people who can see an entrepreneurial opportunity and get it off the ground, and that our leaders while languishing in the past are missing a taxation revenue source of some significance.

Are we going to be the last place on earth to come to grips with this issue?

Get Smart

July 21

Cop crimes not as bad

Dear Editor,

I write in relation to some past and present articles in the newspaper about the behaviour of members of our police force.

This morning (August 14) I read about an officer stealing from a crime scene more than $5000. Previously I’ve read about police officers crashing their trucks, officers driving while under the influence of alcohol causing an accident that cost a life and also one officer involved in dealing with drugs. The list just goes on and on.

Now, we have to watch a police officer on TV telling the community how many burglaries, drunk driving and accidents happen over the weekend.

Why is it that we never hear about the crime that one of their own staff are involved in during these reports?

Aren’t their crimes as bad as the crime in the community that they report?

It’s thanks to the newspaper we see the names of these officers and hear of these crimes. I thought the police are trying to support the community in decreasing crime here on Rarotonga.

Neighbourhood watcher

August 15

Don’t forget the Toa ‘noose’

Dear Editor,

While the Leader of the Opposition has a point that any new Chinese loan needs to be transparent, at least the loan will be for something worthwhile – clean water.

Let us not forget that one of the biggest nooses around the taxpayers’ neck is the Toa “profit guarantee” by the Demo government to prop up a failing private enterprise company. Millions continue to be given away with absolutely nothing to show for it. Yet again the taxpayers of this country pay for inept politicians.

Long-necked Taxpayer

(Name and address supplied)

September 5

Avoiding soft drink payments was smart but unethical

Dear Editor,

This is in response to Count von Count II’s assessment of the ‘Colagate’ lost revenue issue.

Separating soft drink invoices might have been legal but that doesn’t negate that fact that government lost millions in revenue through a practice that should not have been authorised – based on the fact that separating invoices between liquid and packaging is not an authorised practice in NZ or Australia.

Illegal or not, taxes that should have been paid, were not. And why say good on those for manipulating the Act and using it for their commercial advantage? How about all the fundraising that schools and community groups are constantly having to do – perhaps the millions in unpaid taxes might have made it their way? Oh no, good on smart businessmen for finding a way to get around paying taxes – still unethical in my book!

And again it brings us back to the fact, the Act would not have been manipulated in such a way if it had never been approved in the first place. If you can get your head around that concept, then perhaps you will understand that government revenue was never received from a company that should not have been authorised to use the ‘loophole’ in the way that they did – get it?

It’s interesting to see that the writer attacks the former Director of Audit Mr Paul Allsworth in an attempt to deflect attention from the idiot who had a chance to put a stop to the practice many years ago and didn’t. And who on earth would have known about the PERCA findings regarding Mr Allsworth’s bonus payments? (Sorry if it was covered in CINews – I don’t ever recall reading about it). And did the PERCA committee make him pay it back? Probably not, because they are about as useful as tits on a bull.

With the knowledge about Mr Allsworth’s bonuses I would say it certainly looks as though Mr Stoddart has written the letter himself (especially since he’s on the PERCA committee).

It’s amazing how quiet he is about his own stuff-up when he is so quick and vocal to criticise others who haven’t performed. If he has the guts to front up and explain why he approved the arrangement that allowed CITC to gain a significant advantage over other competitors so many years ago and allowed them not to pay millions in tax, I’m sure the whole nation would love to hear from him.

Taxpayer

October 16

‘Life interest only’ is wrong!

Dear Editor,

It has come to my attention that there are moves under way, instigated by a papa’a Land Court Judge from New Zealand (a complete stranger to the Cook Islands) to change the meaning of an Occupation Right from what it has been for generations.

Instead of being granted an Occupation Right for ever (which means that my children can succeed to it) to an Occupation with “Life Interest Only” (which means the O/R is terminated upon my death.)

If this is true, it will infringe on my rights as a Cook Islander and takes away the rights of my children. It looks also that we are back in the times of colonialism when a white papa’a judge could decide the future of us Cook Islanders; i.e. change our culture and customs as he sees fit.

Now let us consider the effects of this “life interest only” nuisance:

1) What would happen to the Occupation Right of someone who builds a very substantial home for him and his off-springs and their children? Would the property and house on it revert to the family-land pool the day after the poor man dies?

2) What would happen to an orange-plantation planted, at great cost and labour for the family, when this orange-plot would revert to the family-land-pool at the demise of the planter? Who would be entitled to the income of such plantation?

3) What sensible Cook Islander overseas would even consider returning home to build himself a home on an Occupation Right granted to him by his family when this property would cease to belong to his immediate family upon his passing away?

4) The children of a holder of an Occupation Right would live under ‘the black cloud’ of knowing that they will not be able to succeed to their father’s Occupation Right if these ideas of a certain New Zealand papa’a judge would come into force.

To me, this idea of a “Life interest only” Occupation Right is illegal and breaches the Human Rights, of every Cook Islander, to save land-tenure for him and his family.

The right to own his own piece of land is a God-given right and no one can take this away from him, not even a New Zealand judge who has no relationship Cook Islands except that he gets paid extremely well for flying to the Cooks for free to ‘rubber-stamp’ decisions made by the families.

I am sure all Cook Islanders agree with me that land tenure matters, including Occupation Rights, should be left as they are and have been in the past – a matter for Cook Islanders and not outsiders.

It is not right for any non-Cook Islander to arrive on our shores and, in a ‘willy-nilly’ way, try to change our centuries old customs and traditions.

(Mrs) Teetu Tschan (nee Tatira)

Aitutaki

November 10