Ministers living at taxpayers’ expense

Thursday 13 June 2019 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in National


Ministers living at taxpayers’ expense
Opposition Democratic Party leader Tina Browne, speaking in Parliament yesterday, sought details of the occupants of all government housing.

A Crown minister with her own properties in Rarotonga is occupying one of the sought-after government houses.

Opposition Democratic Party leader Tina Browne, speaking in Parliament yesterday, sought details of the occupants of all government housing.

Deputy prime minister Mark Brown refused, saying government transparency didn’t mean “pulling your pants down in public.” The occupants’ identities should be kept private, he said.

But Cook Islands News understands Health Minister Rose Brown lives in one of the houses earmarked for low income families and Members of Parliament of outer island constituencies.

Brown is permitted to live there because she is one of the outer island MPs – but she is also a permanent resident of Rarotonga. Under the Civil List, she is entitled to rent-free government housing, lawn mowing and hedge trimming services.

Toka Hagai, the former Cook Islands Party MP for Rakahanga, is also allegedly occupying one of the government properties.

Hagai is no longer part of the government after he lost an electoral petition last year, but he is set to be sworn-in as the country’s “seventh minister”, outside Parliament.

Ironically, a family member of Tina Browne lives in another of the state properties.

In her question in Parliament, Browne said she had asked the Cook Islands Investment Corporation to provide her with details of all government houses and its occupants.

She sought that information because one of the Opposition MPs, who does not have a house in Rarotonga, had been asking for a government house for long time – but there were none available.

Mark Brown, who is also the minister responsible for Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC), said he was aware that there is a waiting list of close to 45 people wanting the government housing.

The list of tenants was a matter for CIIC and the officials, rather than “for politicians to play around with”.

He also said he was well aware of a request from an Opposition MP for a government house for rent.

“I believe it was due to some misunderstanding about Investment Corporation incorrectly thinking she no longer required a rental home which is why this process has now dragged out,” Brown explained.

In a supplementary question, Tina Browne asked the deputy prime minister “how can you allege privacy when you are dealing with property belonging to the public?”

Brown replied that there were many issues involving the public that raised privacy concerns. These matters involved taxation as well as housing, he said.

“But if the leader of the Opposition is so adamant to learn the names of people who rent the government properties I’m sure that can be provided to her but I’m concerned that may be used for political purposes.”