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‘Govt exists to help our people across all fronts’

Thursday 23 March 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in National, Politics

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‘Govt exists to help our people across all fronts’
Spouses of the Members of Parliament and Parliament Executive were escorted into the Auditorium first, followed by King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters and his party who were greeted with a traditional turou. MELINA ETCHES/23032239

The Ceremonial Opening of the 18th Parliament of the Cook Islands – Te Marae Akarau Vānanga o te Kuki Airani – got underway yesterday morning from 10am at Te Are Karioi/National Auditorium (King’s Chambers).

Spouses of the Members of Parliament and Parliament Executive were escorted into the Auditorium first, followed by King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters and his party who were greeted with a traditional turou.

The MPs were the last to arrive about 11am, after being summoned by the King’s Messenger.

The highlight of the event was the Speech from the Throne delivered by the King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters.

He reminded the MPs that “you are the elected representatives of our people and as such the duty of responsibility and care placed in your hands is of the highest magnitude”.

“And at all times let us remember that government does not exist for its own sake. Nor does it exist to create dependencies – instead it exists to help our people across all fronts.

“At the end of the day, our Government is for the people. It exists primarily to provide an improved standard of living and wellbeing for all of us who call the Cook Islands home.”

Marsters said the previous term had been a turbulent time for the country and the people as the onset of Covid-19 pandemic brought with it a number of unprecedented challenges.

He said due to the heavy dependency on tourism, the impact on the GDP, the Gross Domestic Product of the country, was amongst the highest levels suffered by the developed nations of the world.

“My Government borrowed $130 million to fund our response to Covid-19, bringing with it an associated increase in debt servicing, forecast to reach in excess of $30 million per year by the end of this decade – three times our current servicing costs.

“These figures may seem alarming to some, but the decision to extend our debt levels was not taken lightly. If My Government did not do what was needed to help keep our businesses and people afloat and alive, then the consequences would have been much worse.

“And even under these exceptional conditions, we have of course never abandoned our principles of fiscal responsibility – along with our fellow Pacific Island countries, we continue to talk with funding partners about restructuring our debt so that debt servicing can be maintained to sustainable levels.”

Marsters said already the country’s cash position has markedly improved from 2021 and our tourism numbers are steadily rising, our economy reigniting and recovering.

“But all the tourists and the dollars they bring to our country are not the be-all and end-all of our economy – we know we cannot rely on tourism alone to grow our economy over the longer term, and we know that economic diversification is essential to long-term growth.

“We also know that to support our private sector to invest in new industries, we first need to have the right economic foundations in place. This means providing better internet connectivity in the Pa Enua, taking more business online, and ensuring our business and investment laws encourage a fruitful environment for all types of businesses.”

Marsters reiterated the need for economic diversification while highlighting the government’s seabed minerals programme.

“Today, My Government believes that we could do the same with our seabed minerals programme, with our own Seabed Minerals Authority recently celebrating its tenth anniversary.

“Our deep-sea polymetallic nodules are a vast resource that our Government has been profoundly aware of ever since we first became self-governing in 1965.

“Over the past 10 years and more, My Government has been preparing our laws, our regulatory authorities and agencies, and most importantly our people, for the development of a sustainable and environmentally responsible seabed minerals sector that will operate for the benefit of all Cook Islanders.

“One year ago, we granted our first-ever seabed minerals exploration licences to three different companies, valid for five years. Over the past year and upcoming four years, significant millions have been and will be spent on exploring and gaining knowledge of our deep ocean, with some of that investment already spilling over to our domestic economy as we enter year two of the five-year exploration licence period.

“As we embark on our journey of knowledge, My Government does not underestimate the broader value of ocean exploration and the discoveries it may reveal to us. This exploration and research process provides the experience and knowledge necessary for us to become effective stewards of the ocean and its resources, and sets a course for future generations to navigate.”

The King’s Representative also highlighted government’s continued investment in essential infrastructure, both in Rarotonga and across the Pa Enua, building roads, constructed new facilities and developed key projects like the Arutanga Harbour revitalisation in Aitutaki.

He said the government had funded a number of initiatives and focused their capital investment plans on projects which include developing the National Stadium and Health, Justice and Police ministry buildings, and in the Pa Enua, CIIC and ICI have been developing public infrastructure in Mangaia, Tongareva, Manihiki, Rakahanga, Pukapuka, Nassau and Palmerston (the Hurricane Shelter).