The flag of the Cook Islands, officially known as the Cook Islands Ensign, waves in the wind at Muri Lagoon in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Photo: SUPPLIED
2021 picked up from where 2020 left – Covid-19 was once again the story of the year but a promising one with vaccines and booster shots providing some hope that “normal” may not be too far away.
While the rest of the world endured continued restrictions and lockdowns from two new and highly infectious Delta and Omicron variants, Cook Islanders remained clear of Covid-19 despite recording two historical cases.
The local economy also enjoyed a bit of activity from quarantine free travel with New Zealand which lasted for about three months – from May to August.
Cook Islands News takes a look back at the pandemic and other stories that defined the year 2021.
Met Office says it will be about eight to nine months before Cook Islands will
start experiencing cooler than average temperatures. Following what has been
described as the warmest decade, the Cook Islands Meteorological Service says
2021 could see some of the highest temperatures on record.
Toa trees removal
to remove the toa (ironwood) trees that have graced the road side of Matavera
since the early 1960s have started. Resident Renall Vogel, who has been vocal
against the destruction of the toa trees, was devastated to see the trees being
passenger gets his temperature checked by a health official before checking in
at the Rarotonga International Airport early yesterday. RASHNEEL KUMAR/21012014
Rarotonga International Airport witnessed a glimpse of pre-Covid-19 activity as
115 passengers boarded the first quarantine free flight to New Zealand.Cook
Islanders and other residents with valid visas are able to travel into New
Zealand without undergoing quarantine on arrival.
appointed Secretary of Health says his immediate focus is recruiting to fill in
critical vacancies advertised late last year.Bob Williams was confirmed
as the new Secretary of Te Marae Ora (TMO) health ministry. Williams, who has
been acting Secretary since December 25 after former head Dr Josephine Aumea
Herman stepped down, was appointed for three-year term, effective January 19,
Puna bags top
Henry Puna was named the new Secretary General of the Pacific Islands
Forum, becoming the first Cook Islander to take up the top regional role.
Puna was selected for
the role after hours of talks during the historic Pacific Islands Forum Special
Leaders Retreat held virtually for the first time on Tuesday. He won the close
race for the position by a vote.
Former Speaker of Parliament
Niki Rattle. 20063015
After nearly nine years in the
role, Niki Rattle has tendered her resignation as Speaker of Cook Islands
Parliament. “I have been Speaker since June 2012 and while I am honoured to
have served the Parliament as the Speaker for this period of time … I have
decided to resign at this point of the electoral cycle to allow time for others
to build experience of the role and to ensure a transition prior to the end of
the Parliamentary term.”
takes over PSC
Hunter joins the Office of the Public Service Commission as its new head. The
former senior public servant who spent the last seven years in a senior
management position at one of the largest construction companies in the Cook
Islands, is replacing Russell Thomas. Thomas retires after almost nine years in
the role. In a statement, Hunter said: “It is fair to say that I am both
humbled and extremely honoured that Government has chosen to appoint me to this
top post and I intend not to let anyone down.”
shop attendant was left shaken after being threatened with a bush knife in an
aggravated robbery in Titikaveka. Three offenders, one armed with a bush knife
and other with a baseball bat, barged into Woo’s Store in Akapuao, stealing
cash, cigarettes and canned alcoholic drinks. The offender carrying the bush
knife threatened the shop assistant, stealing “two days’ worth of income” and
cigarettes while the other helped themselves with cans of Woodstock bourbon
Minister Mark Brown with former prime minister and Manihiki MP Henry Puna, who
currently holds the role of Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum.
was all smiles for those who gathered at the High Court yesterday supporting PM
Mark Brown and former PM Henry Puna as Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams QC
acquitted them of all charges of fraud and improper payment of public money in
relation to the 2018 charter flights to Penrhyn and Pukapuka.
Tura appointed Speaker
Tai Tura was sworn in as the
new Speaker of Parliament at a special ceremony held at the Queen’s
Representative His Excellency Sir Tom Marsters’ residence in Titikaveka. The
Member of Parliament for Mauke had held the role of Deputy Speaker for nearly 10 years – since the time
of the former Speaker, the late Sir Geoffrey Henry, who also served two terms
as the country’s prime minister.
retirement age removed
the support of the Opposition, Government yesterday amended the Police Act to
remove the retirement age of 60, to pave way for the new Police Commissioner. The
Public Service Commission shortlisted two candidates for the top cop job, both
of whom are believed to be in their early 60s.
Cooks open for business
on May 1: PM tells NZ
If Prime Minister Mark Brown
has his way, it will be less than five weeks before the first few visitors from
New Zealand will be able to visit the Cook Islands without the need to
quarantine. All he needs is for New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern to give the green
light to the plan. PM Brown – currently on a whirlwind trip to NZ visiting top
Kiwi government officials – agreed with Ardern on setting the month of May as
the target for two-way quarantine-free travel after face-to-face talks last
over a year in the job, the head of the local water authority has stepped down
for health reasons. To Tatou Vai Limited (TTV) has appointed a new chief
executive officer after former boss Gregory Longman’s departure from the
Commissioner James Keenan. PHOTO: AL WILLIAMS/21063038
Keenan new top cop
The country’s new Police Commissioner is James Keenan, the first Cook
Islander to achieve the rank of commissioned officer in the New Zealand Police
force. Prime Minister Mark Brown, acting
in his capacity as the Minister of Police, announced the appointment of Turepu
James Keenan as the new Cook Islands Police Commissioner.
in the House
Vainerere was officially confirmed as the new Clerk of Parliament – for the
second time around – by the Parliament, just over a year after he was sacked in
March 2020. Vainerere received his Warrant of Appointment, signed by the
Queen’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters. “I’m humbled by my appointment and
appreciative, and I look forward to using my skills to assist Parliament and
take it to the next step.”
as boy, 6, dies
Titikaveka family is coming to terms with a terrible tragedy of losing their
six-year-old son in a road accident. The six-year-old boy died from the
injuries he sustained when he was hit by a small truck. Police spokesperson
Trevor Pitt said the victim was attended to at the scene in Titikaveka, on a
were later notified by the hospital of his passing, Pitt said.
Puna, the wife of former prime minister Henry Puna, claimed back her husband’s
Manihiki seat in a by-election. After the preliminary counts, the Cook Islands
Party candidate bagged 82 votes to beat Munokoa Maraeara of the Democratic
Party on 32, and Temu Okotai (Independent) on 5.
The first two tourists to
walk through Rarotonga Airport’s doors, Debra Mei and Clarke Truscott -
Visitors from New Zealand
finally arriving on Monday’s flight - 21051729,21051731, 21051732
first tourists in 14 months were welcomed at Rarotonga Airport yesterday by
cheering locals, many too excited to contain themselves. Laughter, hugs, and
some tears were shed as visitors were finally welcomed back after what was for
many a long and painful wait. Some wary locals hung back, a little
apprehensively, and kept their distance with a face mask at hand, something
that Covid-free Rarotonga – unlike the rest of the world – has had no need for,
of Health Bob Williams was first to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine after
the first batch arrived in the country. The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine got
underway at the Rarotonga Hospital last night with 30 frontline health workers
among the first to be vaccinated.
Concerns have been raised over
“outdated rules” at the Ministry of Justice which prevent parents from
registering their newborn child with a hyphenated surname to include the
mother’s name.Amber Rennie and Jaret Moore, parents of two-month-old
baby Malia Rennie-Moore, have yet to register the birth of their only daughter.
This after the Ministry of Justice refused to register their newborn child with
the hyphenated surname “Rennie-Moore”, forcing them to seek legal assistance.
Minister Mark Brown has relinquished half of the 17 portfolios he allocated
himself when he became the country’s leader in October last year, in a Cabinet
portfolio reshuffle. Despite the changes, Brown retains the highest number of
portfolios, including a number of key ministries. They are Attorney General,
Office of the Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Public Service
Commission, Police, Finance and Economic Management, Seabed Minerals and
Natural Resources and Cook Islands Investment Corporation.
shared the remaining nine.
Party leader Tina Pupuke Browne. 21062923
Browne remains Demo
Tina Pupuke Browne has been retained as leader of
the Democratic Party after voting during the party conference delivered a
landslide victory for the Rakahanga Member of Parliament. Browne, a Senior
Cook Islands lawyer was challenged by Matavera’s Vaitoti Tupa, a first term MP,
and last minute challenger businessman Tex Tangimetua.
$500 for lying about Covid
A Cook Islands man with a
historical Covid-19 test charged with making a false declaration on a travel
document gets slap on the wrist fine and name suppression.The man who
lied on his travel documents about a historic Covid-19 test and caused health
staff “grave concern” was fined $500 in the High Court at Avarua. The defendant
faced a maximum fine of $10,000 or a year in prison for breaching the Covid-19
Act put in place in 2020.
owner of the proposed Pasifika Air says lack of support from Cook Islands
government has led to the grounding of his ambitious airline plans.
proposed airline that was meant to fly direct from Wellington and Christchurch
to Rarotonga will not happen, says the airline owner Mike Pero.
got to a stage about a week ago where there were just too many obstacles coming
up out in front of us,” said Pero, who is a Cook Islander. “Despite my best
intentions, it just isn’t meant to be for Pasifika Air.”
Ties optional in Parliament
Neck ties are now optional in Parliament, announced Speaker Tai Tura. The
decision follows the first ever Kia Orana Day in Parliament where members came
dressed in the traditional Cook Islands (pareu) attire. Neck ties were made
optional on Friday.
Coroner is expected to reveal what caused the death of a Kiwi tourist in
Rarotonga. Police would not reveal details after they had received a medical
report and passed it on to the Coroner. A police spokesman said they expected
to close the file after the Coroner had signed it off. The tourist died of a
suspected heart attack while swimming at Aroa.
‘Budget of Revival’ approved
The total budget summary of
$300,049,742, just over $11 million more than the original tabled Budget, was
passed in Parliament before it was adjourned sine die. The additional amount is
for government agencies which were appropriated over $165 million, exactly $11
million more for those agencies than when the Budget was first tabled. The
total amount appropriated to the outer islands is $12,605,145.
Battle for titles
President of the House of
Ariki Kaumaiti Nui Tou Ariki has expressed his deep disappointment at the
battles and double investitures of the same Ariki titles that have occurred
recently. Tou Ariki shared his sentiments while speaking at the investiture of
Rangatira of Makea Karika George Ariki on the Ra O Te Ui Ariki (Ariki Day)
Joseph’s School students led by their head boy Aporo Purua, left, entertain
guests and fellow students at the school’s 125th birthday
celebrations yesterday. AL WILLIAMS/21071525
Joseph’s celebrate 125years
hundred people converged on St Joseph’s Cathedral to honour the 125th
birthday of St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School. More than 150 students and
staff braved the rain and marched in song along St Joseph’s Rd to join the
congregation in Holy Mass.
Early visitor arrival projections
released by Cook Islands Tourism have been scaled up to 12,000 this month while
11,000 visitors are now forecast to land here each month between August and
October. The latest projections surpass earlier figures of 11,000 visitors in
July, 10,500 in September and 10,500 in October.
Fishing boats are coming back mostly empty,
some of the people affected say it’s normal while others say it’s the worst
it’s ever been. “We’ve never had (fish) supply this low before,” says Fresh
Fish Company owner Timothy Vaikai said. Marine resources Secretary Pamela Maru
said the current low supply of fresh fish should be attributed to environmental
conditions that play a major role in seasonal catch rates.
European Union (EU) and the Cook Islands have extended a “sustainable”
fisheries partnership by three years. The agreement was announced on Wednesday
and allows EU fishing vessels operating in the Western and Central Pacific
Ocean (WCPO) to continue fishing in Cook Islands fishing grounds.
initial fisheries agreement to allow European fleet to fish in our waters and
catch up to 7000 tonnes per year of tuna and other annual migratory species was
finalised in 2017. The initial deal expired in 2021.
tribute to the people
Islands proudly celebrated the Constitution Day, marking the country’s 56 years
of self-governance in true island style with drums, songs and dance. When
things were at the worst for our country, that was when we saw the best in our
people, said Prime Minister Mark Brown in his address at the Constitution Day
celebrations at the National Auditorium
takes ‘work action’
College has put on hold its support classes and extra-curricular activities to
protest against Ministry of Education’s inaction on pay parity issue for its
“committed long serving teachers”. The national college adopted a new roster
which saw school hours reduced to 8.20am-2.30pm, focusing only on core learning
delivery through subject classes. The teachers returned to work after meetings
with Education ministry.
Travel bubble halted
Government has decided to extend the current Alert
Level 2 as well as the temporary suspension on inbound passenger air travel
from New Zealand as cases of Covid-19 continue to climb. Following this
week’s 72-hour halt to inward arrivals from NZ, those hoping to make it to the
Cook Islands will now have to wait. Kiwi travellers currently in the Cook
Islands who have not been at a New Zealand location of interest and do not have
Covid-19 symptoms are able to return from the Cook Islands on a scheduled
of RSV recorded
highly contagious virus with “cold and Covid-like symptoms” has been detected
in the Cook Islands. Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health has confirmed two cases of
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that infects the lungs and breathing
passages. However, there could be more cases of this respiratory virus present
in the community, says a Te Marae Ora spokesperson.
Imua 105 docked in Rarotonga on Wednesday.
has been short on rice in recent weeks as a result of changes in shipping
routes due to ongoing Covid-19 challenges in Fiji. Consumers are expected to
get some relief with suppliers restocking shelves following a two-week absence
of the staple. Prime Foods is one of the leading supermarkets that has been out
of rice for at least a fortnight. Supermarket owner Dan Forsyth said the
Covid-19 situation in Fiji had left them short of stock.
approved for children
Cook Islands Government has approved
vaccination for children aged 12 to 15. Secretary of Health, Bob Williams said
the decision was approved during a cabinet meeting.
The rollout of the vaccine started in October.
when border reopens
All future visitors to the Cook Islands aged
12 years and older need to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, Prime Minister
Mark Brown announced. The only exemption will be visitors who have a medical
certificate. Brown said the Cook Islands would not open its borders for
quarantine-free travel until it was fully confident there was no community
transmission in New Zealand. The government said this would likely occur when
New Zealand returns to Covid-19 Alert Level 1.
Local businesses continue to struggle to find
employees and the situation is only set to get worse as more local workers are
recruited for work in New Zealand, where they can earn higher wages and
possibly find a path to residency. With an inevitable opening of the border
on the horizon, local businesses are banking on another rush of Kiwi visitors
once the Covid-19 outbreak in New Zealand concludes.
Islands Government employees have taken up more than 10 terabytes of space with
unrelated work content – including movies and music – which has been deleted
from the network by their IT boss. Office of the Prime Minister ICT director
Pua Hunter sent a memo to 2000 network server users on Monday, telling them
that over 10 terabytes of “valuable storage” was being used for movies, music,
photos and personal files.
Tapaitau suspended over
corruption related charge
Deputy Prime Minister Robert Tapaitau
has been suspended (on full pay) pending outcome of his court case after he was
revealed as the government member being charged with conspiracy to defraud. He
is charged alongside Diane Charlie-Puna, the former Secretary of Infrastructure
Cook Islands, and Nga Puna, the former director of the National Environment
Service, who appeared in the Criminal Court on multiple theft offences and
conspiring to defraud.
Major leak of offshore data
The Cook Islands made an
appearance in the Pandora Papers – the leaked cache of 11.9 million financial
records – which includes a high-profile Israeli businessman who allegedly tried
to hide over $1 billion in a trust company here.
The Pandora Papers is the name
given to the confidential information unlocked from 14 offshore financial
service providers – including one that operates here – that set up and manage
shell companies and trusts in tax havens around the world.
$150,000 in contributions
‘oversight’ on the part of government’s payroll processing system resulted in a
debt of over $150,000 with the Cook Islands National Superannuation Fund.
Government agencies will have to fork out $76,037 from their current 2021/22
budget to pay for a “debt” they incurred from underpaying the superannuation
contributions for October, 2020. The Cook Islands National Superannuation Fund
(CINSF) is also being owed $76,037 as employee contributions which will be
deducted from the fortnightly salaries of the government workers.
Ariki, Te Putokotoko o Tamatoa Ariki Kiikoro-i-te-maru-o-te-Ao, Arerau Maao,
Bishop Tutai Pere, Pastor Bobby Matapo, Pastor Eric Toleafoa with other guests
at the unveiling of the Bicentenary Commemorative Stone at Orongo Park on
Gospel Day in Aitutaki. 21102627
The solemn peal of church bells drifted across Orongo
Park to a crowd of hundreds grandly dressed in a shining white garment at the
Puna Kiore in Arutanga, Aitutaki in commemoration of the arrival of
Christianity 200 years ago. An entourage of warriors followed close behind
carrying a platform holding a large carving of a wooden Bible towards the
Bicentenary Commemorative Stone at Orongo Park.
Those gathered join in to pay
Pukapuka mourns fallen king
The Pukapuka community are
mourning the death of their king Aliki Wolo, Pakitonga Tetio Kaitala Paulo Iti.
Aliki Wolo, 81, passed away enroute to Rarotonga from Pukapuka. He was
airlifted from the northern group island and referred to the Rarotonga
booster shots secured
Pfizer Covid-19 booster shots will be available from mid of December, says Te
Marae Ora Minister of Health. The supply of the Covid-19 booster shots for the
administration of the third dose will be arriving in Rarotonga on December 16.
Cook Islands has been
crowned the highest consumer of alcohol per capita in the world. The findings
come as no surprise to those who have been calling for a clampdown on excessive
alcohol consumption in the country. Website visualcapitalist.com this week
released its 2019 rankings finding the nation to “lead the world per capita
consumption of alcohol, and by far the largest consumers in Oceania”. Cook
Islands residents drink 13 litres (3.4 gallons) of pure alcohol annually,
according to the report.
forecasts ‘could be worse’
Covid-19 modeller professor
Michael Plank says the projections that say Cook Islands will get 2400
infections and 10 Covid-19 deaths in a year could actually be worse. A
public presentation held by Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health in Ngatangiia this
week revealed in an event of a Covid-19 outbreak in the Cook Islands, the
country could expect 2400 infections, 100 hospitalisations and 10 deaths.
Domestic violence figures
Reported incidents of domestic violence are looking to
surpass 2020 figures with last month holding the highest monthly figure
recorded in the past five years, Cook Islands Police say. Police
received 40 complaints in October – all classified under statistical criteria
as domestic violence. It was recorded as the highest monthly figure for more
than five years.
100 expats set
receive PR status
a hundred people could become Cook Islands permanent residents before the end
of the year, now that the Cook Islands Immigration Bill passed its third
reading. The Immigration Bill that deals
with who is defined as a Cook Islander, who can enter the country and who can
become a permanent resident was made Act in Parliament.
Te Marae Ora
Ministry of Health confirmed the positive Covid-19 case detected in the managed
isolation quarantine at the Edgewater Resort was a ‘historical case’ after the
recent test returned a negative result. The 10 year old child who provided two
“weak positive” Covid-19 test results after arriving in Rarotonga, has returned
a negative result in his latest test. That means he’s not infectious and this
is an historical case, Ministry of Health confirmed in a statement.
peaceful rally against the reopening of the nation’s borders in January 2022,
passes through the Avarua town centre. 21120712
Protest against border reopening
One hundred people with bold placards marched to the government Te Atukura grounds to protest against the opening of
the country’s borders in January, 2022. Coordinator of the march and leader of the Cook
Islands United Party Teariki Heather voiced concerns about the “friendly”
United Cook Islands people rally at Te Atukura grounds where police were also
present at the boundary.
Leave to appeal dismissed
The private prosecution’s application seeking leave to appeal a High
Court decision involving Prime Minister Mark Brown and his predecessor Henry
Puna, was declined by the Court of Appeal. President
of Citizens Against Corruption (CAC), Paul Allsworth, who led the prosecution
with defence lawyer Norman George, said it was declined on the principle of double
jeopardy – where a person acquitted cannot be tried again.
sea ‘gold rush’
companies could be awarded a licence to explore the Cook Islands seabed for
rare minerals. People concerned by the prospect say the companies are investing
tens of millions just to take a look and are worried they will be hard to get
rid of if the environmental risks are too great. But the companies themselves
say they are ready to walk away if environment assessment, which they are
supposed to undertake, show risks outweigh benefits.
jab, no job
vaccination will be implemented by at least one state owned enterprise and the
leading private enterprise, while another supermarket has no intention of
enforcing dismissal of the unvaccinated, unless government legislates it. In a written statement, To Tatou Vai Limited
said its board had resolved that the company will not employ anyone who is not
been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
jab, no church
Four unvaccinated members of
the Cook Islands Christian Church have been told to stay away from services as
new recommendations have been laid out by Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health.Two parishioners
in Mangaia and two in Avarua have been told to stay away from church services
following meetings between Secretary of Health Bob Williams and church
representatives last week.
US$80 million loan will prop up the national economy just weeks after New
Zealand delivered a NZ$60 million aid package for ‘Covid-19 economic support
and recovery’.In a media statement, lender Asian Development Bank said the
funding would help the Cook Islands Government progress ongoing reforms to
improve public financial management and foster private sector activity. The
latest loan will increase the country’s debt to over a quarter of a billion
dollars (over $250 million).
The Cook Islands Government
chief economist has resigned and returned to New Zealand amid unconfirmed
reports of internal rift and substantial financial settlement with his
employer, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management. Ministry
of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) planning director Dr Willem Ysbrand
Borren (Pim) confirmed he resigned on Wednesday, December 22, effective January
28, 2022. Borren also confirmed he returned to New Zealand for his notice
period, but would not comment on matters relating to a financial settlement.