One Cook Islands (OCI) party leader Teina Bishop says his party will be bringing a “revolution” to the Cook Islands.
Talking exclusively to CINews this week, Bishop revealed OCI’s five “national policies” for the June 14 election.
He did not however reveal which party his OCI party would form a coalition with if they held the balance of power after June 14.
“I’ll take things as they come – it’s the people’s decision to make,” said Bishop.
The first priority for OCI is to reintroduce the Constitution Amendment Bill, which would reduce the number of seats in Parliament from 24 to 20.
Bishop says the policy should be “easy” for the Cook Islands Party (CIP) to support, seeing that the party has previously made public their support for the bill.
Prime minister Henry Puna stated earlier this month that the bill was “still alive”, but he said time was needed to allow Cook Islanders to “get their heads around” the proposed changes.
OCI’s next focus is the introduction of a ‘BYO’ or “buy your own” car policy for all public servants.
Bishop would like to see all government workers purchase and maintain their own vehicles, as opposed to the current policy, which sees taxpayers footing the bill. The only exclusion would be emergency service vehicles.
“We have government workers driving around in $60,000 cars” said Bishop.
He estimates the country would save close to $10 million if the policy change was made. Bishop would like to see that money spent on refunding the tax that has been collected from Cook Islands pensioners since 2014.
“If the government can do it for businesspeople, then we can do it for our pensioners,” he said, referring to the estimated $18 million tax writeoff recently carried out by the tax amnesty office.
If elected into a position of power, Bishop says OCI will also remove all taxes currently being enforced on pensions. The changes would cover pensions being collected both locally and also from overseas.
“People will be paying 15 per cent for the Value Added Tax (VAT) enforced on goods and services anyway,” said Bishop.
Another tax OCI wants removed is the withholding tax currently enforced on savings and term deposits.
Bishop says that by removing this, “children will be better encouraged to save”.
OCI also has plans to remove the pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) tax for all Cook Island residents who work. “This is a revolution” said Bishop.
“Take pilots for example – they are taxed 30 per cent straight away. They then put five per cent of their pay towards their superannuation fund – then they pay 15 per cent VAT on all goods and services. They’re taxed almost 50 per cent of their income.”
Bishop says his party is focused on “finding ways to keep Cook Islanders in their country” and believes the removal of the PAYE tax will play a big part in achieving that goal.
“We’re focussing on people and their basic needs,” he said. His aim is to leave purchasing power “in the hands of Cook Islanders, not the government”.
The OCI leader says the income generated from VAT has grown from $35.4 million over the 2008-2009 period to a predicted $58 million for the 2017-2018 period.
Bishop also claims the government’s personnel costs have “sky-rocketed” $11 million since 2008, and says they’re now costing the taxpayer $52 million a year. The current operational costs however, are $19 million, the same as they were in 2008.
The money generated from income tax has also remained stagnant, sitting at around $23 million annually since the 2008-2009 period. “Some of these figures – when I tell people, they can’t believe it” says Bishop.
Another of OCI’s policies focusses on the salaries being given to Members of Parliament (MPs). Bishop says that, if elected, his party will save a minimum of $250,000 per year by reducing the salaries for MPs. “That’s a million dollars saved in one term of government,” he said.
Finally, Bishop says that his party will aim to plug the “leakage” of $100 million which is being earned in the Cook Islands and then spent offshore.
“The money can go back into the things that people want, like two water tanks per house.”
OCI’s “simple” manifesto is due to be released early next week.