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OPINION: Parliament representation should be based on population size

Monday 4 July 2022 | Written by Ruta Tangiiau Mave | Published in Editorials, Opinion


Remove the party politics that limits people to do what the party wants. If everyone stood as an independent representing their people, then as a group they can vote for a leader, similar to the papal voting in Rome to decide the next pope, writes Ruta Mave.

I have travelled to Aitutaki, Atiu and Mangaia which afforded me the time to explore and drive around and see the unique and fascinating differences offered by each island. I found apart from the remoteness, the absolute silence and the empty space to travel around in was the simpleness many live in. Then when I realised how much weight these three islands hold in Parliament representation, I felt an unbalance and unfairness to them and to the nation.

The Cook Islands consists of 15 islands and atolls with a total population of approximately 14,964 and with over 4000 listed as children reducing the eligible voting populace.

About 80 per cent live in urban areas namely Rarotonga and yet the outer islands hold sway to about 58 per cent of the members to be voted in the next election.

Only 10 islands are represented in Parliament and each member holds the same equal opportunity to lead or hold a portfolio which is admirable or dangerous.

The issue of parliamentarian numbers comes under fire every election yet no referendum for the people to vote on. I understand every island wants to have representation but can we continue to have 40 voters hold the same power as 400 or 4000? A village this election can have four parties represented allowing less than 20 people deciding a lucky member’s ability to earn $72,000 per year plus expenses, is this fair?

The 24 Members of Parliament represent Rarotonga whom has 10 from 14,964 population; Aitutaki three from 1800; Mangaia three from 499; Atiu two from 434; and one each from Manihiki with 212 people; Mauke - 297 Mitiaro - 155 Penrhyn - 226, Pukapuka - 425 and Rakahanga – 83.

One would hope there was a valid reason why Aitutaki and Mangaia would have the same number of parliamentarians despite Aitutaki having over three times more people and why Atiu get two members when it has a similar number of people as Mangaia. Is it still valid?

First past the post does not reflect the makeup of our society. If it is to be fair the outer island’s representation is just, however, the weight of influence should be on a pro-rata basis of density of numbers and then perhaps equally reflected in their income. Most of the members of parliament both sides don’t do enough to earn their wage packet but the true test of their intention to help their constituency should lie in how they utilise their rewards. Many bleats on about how they have to spend their earnings on helping their people, I am sure there is an expectation of it, however it is still an exorbitant wage for a gardener.

Parliament’s 45 per cent wage increase alone costs the country an extra $700,000 per year since Covid hit the rest of us, this could have been better shared if there was a policy to pay politicians differently. Let’s take the everyday pleb politician on $72,000 they could and should be able to live on $45,000 plus expenses then the remainder can be assigned to their constituents. Knowing there is only this amount available to them the community have an equal duty of care to decide how the money is spent. After all that is why they voted the person in. From what I could see travelling the villages, there is not a lot of ‘honourable’ Members of Parliament money visibly seen in these communities.

The representation could perhaps remain at 24 but let’s give them a point system according to the populace they represent. One can easily influence 40 people but they should receive less points to one who has to win the hearts and minds of 400. Then a party must achieve a predetermined point total that reflects the voting demographic in order to lead.

Alternatively, remove the party politics that limits people to do what the party wants. If every one stood as an independent representing their people, then as a group they can vote for a leader, similar to the papal voting in Rome to decide the next pope. They remain voting until they have a majority decision. Then at least the person leading the country can utilise the best person for the job and not do their best with what the party provides. Then maybe we would have politicians who are there to do the best for the nation not sitting there expecting the nation to do the best for them.