Supporters have challenged the dismissal of the Clerk of Parliament.
Tangata Vainerere was sacked on Friday after the cost of building a new debating chamber blew out by $352,000. The initial budget of the project was $300,000.
Parliament’s Speaker Niki Rattle confirmed yesterday that she had “terminated” the Clerk’s contract.
“Deputy Clerk Jeannine Daniel has become the acting Clerk pending the recruitment of a new Clerk,” she said.
“It is unfortunate that businesses have suffered the delay in the payment for the outstanding services and goods rendered. MFEM has confirmed that all outstanding invoices have been paid.”
But Democratic Party Opposition leader Tina Browne said Vainerere was put in an untenable situation, to deliver a major renovation of the Parliament building with a very small budget and an extremely tight timeframe.
“Ta Vainerere was expected to lead and manage what turned out to be a major rebuild of Parliament building, he was given a budget of $300,000, then the additional pressure of the government wanting everything done with a certain time limit,” she said.
“The project proceeded on the understanding that construction work would be done by Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC) building crew, but that didn’t happen,” Browne said.
“Ta Vainerere was employed to be the Clerk of Parliament, not a construction supervisor.”
Browne said the legal requirements should have been followed by the former Clerk and renovation work publicly tendered, “but he found himself in a catch-22 position, tender the work and fall behind schedule, don’t tender the work and be in breach of the legal requirements under the MFEM Act.
“And CIIC was to have provided a full building crew. This didn’t happen so private sector workers had to be brought in to the tune of an additional $150,000.
“The parliament building doesn’t belong to Ta Vainerere, it belongs to CIIC, and CIIC should have taken the responsibility and overseen its renovation.
“Infrastructure Cook Islands should have been brought in to assist the process – these ministries are geared up for these kind of projects, not the Clerk of Parliament. Why was it left to him?
“And it must also be asked, why MFEM didn’t pick up at the outset that there was no tender process.
“Firing Ta was a kneejerk reaction, when these ministries should be accountable.
“Ta chose not to tender so he could deliver a completed building in time for the next sitting of Parliament, and he accepts that was wrong, but I believe huge, unrealistic expectations were placed on Ta Vainerere.
“We have been informed that he couldn’t have tendered the project anyway because there was no allocation for contracting builders and labourers outside of CIIC. So in fact, there was no money to undertake the tendering process.
“So, he was fired for the budget over-runs that were a result of others making decisions as well and neglecting a legal requirement that he couldn’t fulfil anyway and all so he could achieve the output expected of him, and yet the government is appropriating a further $5 million from next year’s Budget for what the Financial secretary has said is to ‘speed up project work’ for Te Mato Vai.”
Browne said: “Ta Vainerere took full responsibility for a project that was undoubtedly badly under-costed from the outset, not one Ministry stepped up to assist, he was taking instructions that changed building plans and increased costs, that took courage”.