Master carver and renowned local creative Mike Tavioni. Photo: Supplied/14121106
I wish to present my thoughts in regards to issues which I feel are important for those courageous people who have decided to be candidates in the coming General Election, writes world renowned artist and cultural icon Mike Tavioni BEM.
I still strongly believe that democracy is a ‘Government by the people, for the people’ and every citizen has his or her God-given right to speak their mind.
The issues of the coming
election are not roads, bridges, harbours, water supply and the likes. Those
projects and activities are the constant and continuous obligations of any
In my opinion the following
are issues which need urgent debate:
Tourism peaked at just over
170,000 in 2019. Firstly, I want to say that the human waste left on our islands
that year – especially Rarotonga – was more than 2380 tonnes.
The amount of plastics, cans,
bottles, cartons and other packaging materials of goods imported to cater for and
sustain the tourism industry for that year is anyone’s guess, but it is already
a monstrous problem. Our small nation is 100 square miles of land mass only.
The issue is, where is this
waste going now and in the near future? There are many angles to the pollution
issue, but who is doing something about it? I am not interested in those who
are talking about it and not walking the talk. I am referring to you, the next
lot of potential lawmakers of this country. Turn a blind eye if you wish, but
then what sort of legacy will you leave behind?
Next is the basic wage as
related to the total wealth created in this country from the tourism industry.
I often hear people say that the local people are “LAZY” and they do not want
to work. How come then that those who are labelled lazy continuously go to New
Zealand to work picking fruit or in the freezing works, or head to the mines in
Australia? The answer is simple – in their own country they are not paid what
they deserve relative to the sum total of the wealth being generated.
To illustrate: Hotel rooms in
the Cook Islands go for well over $200 per night at the cheapest, with most going
for $400-$1000, and only recently the basic wage increased to just $8.50 an hour.
Our people are well educated, they know how to count and to analyse any
situation. Even at $10 an hour, it is not enough for the average Cook Islands
family to cover the very high costs of food and building a decent home.
The prices on food, housing
materials and all other imported foreign goods are created relative to the
wealth generated from the tourism industry – wealth which has never trickled
down to the people of this country. OK, I do know that if the basic wage is increased
to a certain point, it can affect business profitability. Then for me the
alternative is to lower the profit margins on imported goods which are
essential to our people’s daily lives.
The question is, how big are
the margins being placed on imported goods? If the margins on necessary goods
are readjusted, perhaps it can reduce the pressure to increase the basic wage.
Our nation owns about two
million square kilometres of ocean and this contains billions of dollars’ worth
of fish and other highly valued sea creatures.
How much is our country
earning from those exploiting this ocean of ours? I say that we are not even
close to getting 10 per cent of what our country could earn unless we harvest
the bounty of our own ocean ourselves. The question is, WHY NOT? When I ask
this question to some of our people, the reply is that “Cook Islands people do
not want to be on a fishing boat out in the ocean for more than a week”. The
fact is that the owners of all the foreign fishing boats in our waters do not
go out and fish, they pay other people from Indonesia or the Philippines to do
the fishing for them. So what is stopping our country from selling its own fish
and other marine products to the world?
The concentration of nodules
that can be harvested profitably is north of Aitutaki to just south of Penrhyn,
sitting on the bottom of the ocean up to five kilometres deep. The ocean floor
area suitable for collecting these nodules covers several hundred square
kilometres. If the collection of nodules – not mining – takes place, each of
the companies involved will have the potential of harvesting only about 50
square kilometres a year.
The question is, “Why is it
necessary or important to allow the polymetallic nodules to be harvested?” The foremost
reason is to earn much-needed income for our country. Also, several elements in
these nodules are necessary in the production of batteries and the hope is that
in the near future the vehicles of the world will run on batteries instead of
fossil fuels, thereby reducing global pollution.
The other reason is that we
need revenue from our resources, including polymetallic nodules, to enable our country
to become self-sufficient and self-supporting without relying on handouts from
other countries like New Zealand or loans from ADB or China. In the process we
will upgrade the living standards of our people for generations to come.
Well over 40 years of research
has been done on polymetallic nodules, undertaken by many countries of the
world. Now our government has issued licences to three companies – not to
harvest, but to conduct more research. Those who oppose the collection of these
nodules base their opposition on the possible pollution of the ocean, therefore
affecting our food supply. I want to point out that in Bluff in New Zealand,
commercial dredging for oysters in shallow waters has been practised for
perhaps well over 100 years and pollution is not an issue.
The alcohol, cigarettes and
This God-fearing country is
one of the highest consumers of alcohol per capita and at a very high cost,
created with the tourists in mind. The local people who wish to drink have to
pay the same prices as the tourists. Good for the importers, the retailers and
of course the government – they earn money from the sales of alcohol so
everything should be OK.
But about 14 people died from
alcohol-related accidents in 2019. It was nobody’s fault – not the retailer,
not the importer and not the government. Apart from these accidents, alcohol
causes other people to be violent in their homes and in public. On the other
hand, perhaps alcohol is medicinal for some people too, who knows?
Regarding marijuana, the government
does not get any tax from the sale of marijuana and I seem to recall that if a
person is convicted for selling this herb the maximum penalty in the Cook
Islands is a jail term of up to 25 years. By the way, I am talking about
marijuana only and not about other drugs.
I have witnessed the use of
marijuana at universities, night clubs and at various other places – in fact in
every sector of the community. I know someone who has spent time in jail for
selling marijuana and the list of his customers is unbelievable.
I have not heard of anybody
who has died from the use of marijuana. I have an old artist friend in Sydney
who grows a few plants for her own use. She puts marijuana in her dough when
she bakes cookies because it is the only thing she can use to ease her aching
joints. I also know of some Rarotonga people who boil marijuana leaves and
drink it to alleviate their pain from arthritis and other joint problems. Not
long ago a person was convicted for producing marijuana which has helped some
people in Aitutaki with their ailments. We know some prominent people of
Aitutaki reacted against that conviction because they know the benefit of this
The public is allowed to over-consume
sugar, fizzy drinks, fat and hormone-saturated imported goods which cause
obesity, diabetes and death, but there is no legislation to control or stop the
importation of these goods.
In comparison, I believe
marijuana is beneficial as a product that can help many people live a decent
life. It is amazing that most of the intelligent people I have talked to are in
favour of legalising the use of marijuana as a medicinal and recreational commodity.
Migration of our indigenous
When you live in Rarotonga,
the tourism industry is the thing. Perhaps this is also true for Aitutaki, but in
the rest of the Cook Islands there is no tourism and no direct benefit from
that industry. Today, those islands have on average less than 25 per cent of
their pre-1996 populations. What is the outer islands’ share in the nation’s
development programme? Or do they not exist?
Is being self-sufficient or
partly self-sufficient a good idea or a stupid idea? If it is a good idea, then
whose job is it to promote that idea? The homeowner, or the agricultural arm of
government, or the government itself?
Perhaps it is not an issue – or
we can say that it is a personal problem. The fact is that many of our younger
generations have never really been exposed to the art of horticulture and
Here we are blessed with good
soil and a bountiful ocean, and yet our people rely mostly on imported food. Imagine
that for some unknown reason imported food becomes hard to get, then what? Being
at least partly self-sufficient means, you spend less on food and the savings
you make can be put on your housing loan or other luxuries that you may desire.
To those candidates entered in
this election, you choose the important issues to hinge your campaign on and it
might just get you into Parliament. When that happens, please walk your talk. I
will not say good luck in the coming elections because you need to work and
create your own luck.
T F on 30/07/2022
Very perceptive, clear, and pertinent thinking for the future direction of CI. You nailed it perfectly! Stand for election!