A friend of mine just flew overseas for Christmas. Before she even stepped on the plane, the family dynamics of mama drama were already flaring up amongst her adult children. Who got to pick her up at the airport? Who had the privilege to have her stay first? Longest?
People often say that power corrupts and to this I disagree. Power does not corrupt a person, it merely exposes what lies in all our hearts, and simply gives it room, opportunity and permission, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.
I have been prompted to re-submit a series of four articles originally written in 2004 to remind our political leaders they have a responsibility to listen to the concerns of the people of the Cook Islands.
Does it really, as the old saying goes, take a village to raise a child? And if so then when children and or people and families fall through the cracks, should we just look to government or the police or the social services agencies, which we all know work with their own limits or should we look back to the village? As we sip our coffees and peruse through the daily newspaper in the morning, again and again we see the cracks appearing in our villages in our communities, with a sense of absolute frustration as to how to remedy the situation Often our first response is to look to who should be responsible for picking up the pieces. Or out of sheer frustration with a lack of justice, a lack of response or accountability we close our doors, close up our lives and hurt. Because people are hurting. When the sanctity of their home and property is invaded by theft they hurt. When a crime is committed against those they love, they hurt. Right across our communities here in Rarotonga and sadly in the pa enua, people are hurting. And as we read of a man sentenced this week for the most terrible crimes against the young and vulnerable, people are hurting. And one has to ponder as I did, what help is there for those poor victims in that broken community, victims of these terrible crimes. Who is responsible, where is the justice, and what is going to be done about it, are questions that seem to be circulating and resonating for too many people in our communities at the moment. It’s not just the potholes in the road that are of great concern, in fact it is the potholes left in people’s lives that need attention. And yet where or how do we get the respite we need for these social ailments? What do we do when we feel hopeless, or helpless in our situation and there doesn’t seem to be the help we so desperately need? We can target the layers of government, and yes, questions need to be directed there because some of these agencies have a mandate to respond to these social ills. But again, can I suggest as we look outwards and look to others to remedy our situation, we forget one vital part of the answer and that part of the answer is closer then we think. Because that part of the answer is you and me. If it actually does take a village to raise a child, then maybe the answers have always been in the village, in our communities, in our neighbourhoods, in our cluster of homes, in our relationships in our families and in our hands. As we have looked to others, have we negated our own power and agency to effect change in our own locality because “love” has always been a verb, something demonstrated, but never just a description of deep connection. Sometimes we acknowledge society has changed. We notice children’s values have changed and we blame Facebook, mobile devices and a changing world for this divergence. But we forget that we can still influence that world around us and we can be agents for change if we do what we have always done, and work together. A village is a group of people that not only live next to each other. It is also a group of people who live love and work together, because that is their choice. They know their neighbours, they care what happens to their children, they respond to cries for help from over the fence, they watch and are attentive to who comes in and out of their street and driveway. Maybe the need is to strengthen our villages, to strengthen our communities because a strong village, with the tools to make change -namely the people in it, will bring the change we so desperately seek. And village means everyone, absolutely everyone in that village and that community, those clusters of people who call these villages home. When was the last time we had our neighbours or a collective of houses over for dinner? When did we last go over for a coffee, or take notice of children crying or home alone, or a mama sitting there alone all day every day, week after week. When was the last time we met as a community to address issues in our community, taking advantage of the power we have together. Or are we just too busy? Have we stopped caring, have we stopped noticing, have we stopped functioning as a village? Do we now live in a little bubble, once in a while looking over the fence and making assumptions about the neighbours we know little about, and haven’t taken the time to care? “Busy”, is the default answer we give to everything nowadays. But can we really afford to be too busy to care? Let us together take the simple step of taking time with those around us. Let us together build the village so it is strong and robust and most importantly, so that it cares. Spend some time this week with your neighbour; meet with the cluster of houses in your area, and be part of the village you want it to be, because the power has always been ours to make it so. We are going to address some of these issues in Puaikura next week. We will be looking to work together in our village with those who are willing. We will build together with anyone who wants to join us. Because together we have always been stronger, and we have to do something. I enjoy working and discussing how we can build a stronger country and community much more than I do discussing to distracting questions of nationalism. This country’s first premiere, Albert Henry, once said, “No-one in the tribe gets left behind”. I am going to take him at his word, because no-one, means no-one. - Thomas Tarurongo Wynne
I read in yesterday’s paper yet another tantrum by the Minister of Finance over the United Nations membership issue. He displayed this childish behaviour on television on Thursday night. As I watched him talk and as I read his statements in CINews, I could not help but think that here is a man desperate for attention. But worse, he is seeking such attention in a very childish way – much like a crying baby pointing the finger at my team in the Democratic Party for spoiling his day. I mean, is this the same minister who was “donged” on the head several times by Wilkie Rasmussen, CEO for the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, for saying things that were not true and for having incorrect facts? It is rich isn’t it, that the very person that should check first as to whether he has the integrity to level accusations of lying at others has been caught red-handed by the public for not telling the truth. Remember the Papa Williams accusation he made, and that Papa Williams was then employed by the Office of the Leader of the Opposition? And yet Papa, a private citizen with very critical views of the government, was not. We see with this sort of conduct that the minister’s heart in its rapid and frenzied beat is raising his blood pressure to a dangerously high level. Goodness me, let’s hope he does not faint from the heat of politics. I mean, we can’t have this absolutely integral, top man of the Cook Islands Party and government keel over and succumb to the pressure of accountability in politics. After all, isn’t that what this is all about? What we have is a minister and the Prime Minister being grilled by opposition MP James Beer for allegedly lying that they did not raise the issue of the Cook Islands pursuing a seat on the United Nations with the New Zealand government – and in particular the New Zealand Prime Minister. The minister vehemently denies that this ever took place – and he can deny it if he must, but the precursor behaviour of the minister and Henry Puna is a testament to an agenda about them taking the Cook Islands towards acquiring membership of the UN. But why is the minister of finance asking for an apology from James Beer for making such allegations? Isn’t that what politics is all about? Isn’t it true that Minister Brown is in the glasshouse for all to see and for all to throw stones at? If he insists on an apology, how about he apologise for his undermining comments of the Democratic party in the past, some of which were absolutely unnecessary and inappropriate. But this is the man who often says that this is politics. And whether you get plastered by nasty comments, derogatory remarks, insults and putdowns – tough luck. Well, it’s clear what he must do – toughen up and not be obnoxious about it. I defend my team and we are focused on winning the next election. We don’t want to get tangled up with petty issues like the one Mark is wasting parliamentary time on. Triviality will generate more of the same and it will not be good for a government struggling to maintain composure against the ever-growing and expanding Democratic Party. But if they let the public judge, then I have no doubt it is going be pretty painful. So the more Mark makes these sorts of comments the better.
What an announcement this week by the present Labour government and New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, regarding the full pension portability available to those of us in the Cook Islands who were looking at having to spend five years back in New Zealand to qualify!
In previous weeks we have considered the fairness of our tax system, and with the recently passed legislation to write off taxes owing before January 1, 2010, why the integrity of our tax system fails. We then considered the legislation around late-payment penalties (additional tax), the write off of amounts deemed irrecoverable by the Collector, and the policies that the Revenue Management Division (RMD) have adopted over the years in relation to the reduction of additional tax. The ‘fresh start’ incentive and more recently the June 2017 tax amnesty were detailed. The comment has been made to me that it is a strange time when an accountant is batting for RMD. Strange times indeed! Even stranger times when Parliament passes legislation to legalise both tax evasion and tax theft! Taxpayers who have failed to file and those who have resisted paying (both being tax evasion), have been rewarded by the recent legislation. Those that have deducted PAYE from their workers (which is money held in trust to be paid to RMD on behalf of the workers) don’t have to pay it anymore, if taken from their workers before January 1, 2010 (that’s commonly called theft). The reasons (excuses) given by the government for the latest tax writeoff have been varied. Firstly, they wanted the tax liabilities off the Crown’s books. Then good taxpayers shouldn’t complain because they have enjoyed the recent good economic times, they said it was irrecoverable anyway, then it was to increase efficiencies as it was too time-consuming to follow up, then most was additional tax ($14m) so core tax was a small amount (only $5m), then the opposition didn’t care in helping people, and lately it included government departments owing. As everyone knows, if reasons for actions are changed, inconsistent or illogical, the truth is not being told. Few people are fooled by such excuses. Let us briefly consider each of these excuses. Firstly, to get rid of liabilities off the Crown’s book. Clearly wrong – receivables to anyone are assets not liabilities, so tax owed to the Crown is an asset to the government. Who wants to reduce their assets? Yes, the good compliant taxpayers have enjoyed the recent good economic times. But this is also due to their own investment in time and money. But the taxpayers that haven’t filed and haven’t paid have also benefitted from the recent good economic times. And still they haven’t bothered to pay their taxes. Next, it was irrecoverable debt. This is a real con. It appears the Chamber of Commerce has been fooled by this excuse. As noted in an earlier article, the Collector does write off any unpaid tax that is considered irrecoverable (pursuant to section 191 of the Income Tax Act 1997). The government should know, and the public needs to know, that the Collector regularly meets with senior management at RMD, reviews progress on tax arrears, and if there are valid reasons to do so, will write off any core tax. Nevertheless, it is important for RMD to have a long memory when it comes to tax arrears. For example, just because someone leaves the Cook Islands, their tax debt will not necessarily be written off straight away. Have no doubt – there are large amounts of tax dating from pre-2010 that were collectable. These debts were not too time-consuming to collect. With the June 2017 amnesty a number of these core tax debts would have been paid. It is well-recognised by governments that each dollar spent on resources in a tax department is returned many times over. Additional resources were needed, not a tax writeoff. Not only is the core tax paid, other taxpayers are dissuaded from getting into arrears. A few cases to the High Court sends a strong message to tax evaders. Then the excuse that most of the $19m was additional tax, so we should not worry about a “mere” $5m on core tax. This is quite illogical. Firstly, under the June 2017 amnesty all additional tax (not just the pre-2010 portion) would have been reversed. Secondly, $5m is a substantial sum that could have been put to good use. And thirdly, the figures quoted are only those known by RMD. There were still pre-2010 returns to be filed, and under the June amnesty these would have been filed, and the associated tax paid. When the opposition opposed the recent legislation in parliament, the reported government response was that the opposition didn’t care that people were leaving for overseas. The opposition “don’t care about those people”. That is an admission that some tax was collectable and that some people were going to benefit. But really, how many people do you know that have left the Cook Islands saying it was because the RMD was chasing them for their tax arrears? People leave for a number of reasons, but primarily because the cost of living is too high. Lowering the personal tax rates to benefit everyone would have been far better than benefitting a favoured few. The comment that government departments also owe tax is a poor reflection on those departments. While RMD chases the taxpayers in the private sector, what is done to make the negligent government departments comply? But wait, no, this week we are told they are up to date in paying, it was simply reconciliation errors. Seems like multi-choice here, and a mere smokescreen. Two facts are very clear. Most of the core tax was recoverable, and a few taxpayers are being let off massive amounts of core tax. There has been much comment in the media about why the core tax writeoff is wrong. Let’s consider a few major reasons. Firstly, it is a wrong against all employees. For all workers, salary and wages have PAYE deducted by their employer – no chance for a tax break there. Then they pay Value Added Tax (VAT) on almost all goods and services – power, telecom, food, petrol, etc. No tax breaks there. They pay 100 per cent of their tax. Next it is a wrong against all businesses that pay their taxes on time. By the 20th of each month they file their PAYE and VAT returns, and pay the tax. Income tax returns are filed regularly. Both provisional and terminal tax payments are made on time. No tax breaks here. They pay 100 per cent of their tax. Then it is a wrong against all the taxpayers that have made efforts to pay their arrears over the past few years. They have paid some additional and all their core tax. They have caught up with their obligations over the past few years. No writeoffs there. It is also a wrong against the government’s own employees, the RMD staff that have tried to get as many taxpayers compliant as possible. On February 6 I sent an email to the minister of finance and amongst other things said, “This (the writeoff of core tax) undermines years of work by RMD. What we need is strong tax administration, both now and going forward. Most of those with historical tax debts have ‘gamed the system’, and the public know this”. This week three senior employees have left RMD. More than 35 years of experience walked out the door. The timing is a coincidence? I think not. Finally, the tax writeoff is wrong as it rewards bad behaviour. Anyone who has any understanding of human behaviour, including most parents, will know that you will get more of the behaviour that you reward. Not only from the people rewarded, but also from the people that see the rewards. During the Global Financial Crisis, the term ‘moral hazard’ was coined. This was mainly in relation to the behaviour of the banks. The banks took risks, the owners pocketed the profits, but when things went pear-shaped, governments bailed them out. The ‘moral hazard’ was that by having governments save them, the banks were encouraged to continue to take risks. We have a similar situation here. Income tax is a percentage of profits. The taxpayers have made and pocketed the profit, and now the government has wiped out their associated tax. This sends a clear message to more than just the delinquent taxpayers. In a further email to the minister of finance dated February 7 I stated, “The writeoff benefits a few. A better response would have been to reduce the individual tax rates again, or increase the $11k exemption – that way everyone would have benefitted and, dare I say it, would have been politically smart. While many complain that market vendors, holiday homes and the construction industry are getting away with not paying, that pales into insignificance given the millions of dollars that are now being waived, of both assessed and yet to be assessed tax”. In closing, I recently mentioned to a senior government official that, given the obvious opposition to the write off of core tax, and being contrary to RMD’s advice, there must be significant political gains for the government to proceed with such legislation. The reply was, “or personal gain”. Indeed! - Mike Carr
Pastor Ngarima Geroge of the New Hope Church and Te Vakanui Mission yesterday submitted the following editorial in response to a letter writer using the nom de plume ‘Judge Not’ (page 4 today criticising him for his stand against New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern:
Mike Carr is a well-known public accountant in the Cook Islands, who has been preparing accounts and helping businesses and individuals meet their tax obligations for over 30 years. As principal of KPMG Cook Islands, he was a member of the Government Tax Review Committee in 2013. He has probably the most practicable knowledge of our tax system outside RMD.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s speech at Waitangi has gained global attention – and as one who voted for Ardern in the last election and comes from a family that have been longtime Labour supporters, I guess this comes as no surprise to some.
I am mindful that the vague reference to “a former employee” in the story could well rope in a number of former employees, but what stands apart is that the former employee referred to in the story, and possibly in the press statement by EHF, was allegedly involved in the conspiracy with others in the new animal welfare facility set-up known as Te Are Manu (TAM).