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Ruta Mave: Is CISNOC a breeding ground for nepotism and cronyism?

Monday 20 May 2024 | Written by Ruta Tangiiau Mave | Published in Opinion

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Ruta Mave: Is CISNOC a breeding ground for nepotism and cronyism?
Ruta Tangiiau Mave.

Father and son, mother and daughter, brothers in arms and soul sisters, there is something about family. The bonds of blood are thicker than the resumes of other worthy candidates. Questioning the presence of nepotism in CISNOC (Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee) is like asking if the Pope is Catholic?

Nepotism is where those with power or influence favour relatives, friends or associates, especially by giving them jobs or unfair advantages for example when employers ignore the family members habitual lateness. It is where more opportunities exist on the basis of their family connections, not on their talent. Henry Puna as prime minister appointed his nephew Nga Puna to head of Environment, that worked well.

Cronyism is a specific form of ingroup favouritism of awarding only companions and friends such as a governing political party appointing their friends and relatives to only high positions not lower positions. Sound familiar?

Talk about nepotism and cronyism in CISNOC is nothing new.

CISNOC carries a reputation for a lack of equity, unfairness, favouritism and bias towards athletes and sport federations they like. Because of this sports federations stay mute so they can continue receiving funding.

In 2011, Geoffrey Henry was called up about his behaviour as the CISNOC president and his executives were called to resign. A special general meeting was held after 12 individual sports federations signed a letter demanding urgent answers to CISNOC financial state.

Interestingly, in 2012, the now Prime Minister Mark Brown was a board nomination for president of CISNOC when he was Finance Minister and Sports Minister for the CIP government. An obvious conflict of interest, it didn’t come to pass, but the audacity of thinking it was okay is where the danger lies.

Hugh Graham, Geoffrey Henry’s nephew, took over the presidency 2012-2024. During this tenure his brother Robert Graham became secretary general of CISNOC and in 2018 the board suspended him indefinitely, after financial and operational concerns had been brought to their attention including Facebook posts of him not where he was supposed to be for CISNOC.

Quoting conflict of interest Hugh Graham supposedly steps away from getting involved. The sum of $30,000 plus was consistently associated with the dismissal but no charges, court appearances or conviction was followed through on. Nepotism?

At the same time mother and daughter,Siniva Masters as CISNOC sports manager and her mother Ina Masters a board member and Athletics president were in the house. Cronyism?

The former chef de mission was John Paul Wilson, his wife Melanie Wilson was CISNOC office secretary and treasurer for Athletics CI. He took over as treasurer for Athletics during and when Athletics CI eventually charged Melanie for theft of $11,000 meant for children of the Pa Enua. She was convicted 2019. JP did not stand down due to conflict of interest.

When Owen Lewis replaced Robert Graham, it was thought things would change, but the nepotism and cronyism continued.

Melanie Wilson was brought back to work at the CISNOC office despite complaints it set a bad precedence for sports role modelling. Lewis’ reply to me was “but I like her”. Cronyism.

Lewis allowed Robert to meet the IOC president on his visit to Rarotonga despite a pending court appearance for assault. He wasn’t the only one to appear in court pleading guilty for assault. He continues to be involved in sport at high level and the other remains on the executive board. Either no vetting or measures of safeguarding are part of the CISNOC and/or sport federations constitutions or nepotism and cronyism are in play?

In 2023, Owen Lewis as secretary for CISNOC on full pay spent most of the year working in the Northern Mariana’s in another full-time role and the CISNOC board approved it. Cronyism

In 2024, Lewis resigns to be Secretary for Education, which he did not achieve via the selection committee empowered to choose the best candidate. Instead, his friend, Sports Minister Mac Mokoroa overrode their recommendation and placed Lewis in the position. Cronyism.

The CISNOC board then go on a holiday to Aitutaki for the weekend to discuss this new development. Lewis also joins them to discuss his own resignation? Cynicism.

In 2024, the CISNOC AGM was a shambles. The financials presented didn’t add up. No voting was organised to replace Hugh Graham. This is the result of Owen Lewis acting as “unpaid” interim secretary general after being “fully paid” while absent. Overall, not a good look.

Two weeks later, five months after Owen Lewis resigned, his daughter Keziah is announced as his replacement. Keziah is a CISNOC finance officer; reasons quoted for her getting the job said she has sound financial experience. Not a great example of her abilities – consequently, no surprise people will question nepotism?