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LETTER: Questioning the legitimacy of granting PRs

Friday 28 October 2022 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in

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LETTER: Questioning the legitimacy of granting PRs

Dear Editor, Our national elections have come and gone, however there are some unanswered questions and unfinished business that needs attention. The circumstances and reasons for these questions and unfinished business all hover around one subject. And that is the sustenance for political power through whatever means possible.

It’s public knowledge that the Cook Islands United Party have lodged electoral petitions in four constituencies. The Titikaveka petition relates to ineligible voters on the roll. The Atiu petitions relate to both treating and bribery allegations, and the Mitiaro petition relate to bribery allegations. As the Judge stated, it is important that these allegations under the Electoral Act are resolved as soon as possible. These electoral petitions were filed after the elections. However, what eventuated before the elections, surrounding the granting of permanent residency status (PRs) by the Minister of Immigration is an area of legal contention and debate.

The presentation of 247 permanent residence status certificates by officials of Government held on 15 July 2022, just over two weeks before the elections of 1 August 2022, brings to question the intent and integrity of the Minister of Immigration, Mark Brown. It appears that the planning and timing of this presentation was to gain maximum stimulus to obtain a favourable reciprocal response from those PRs who will automatically became eligible to vote on election day. In my view, the probability of the PR recipients voting for the CIP will be extraordinarily high, given the excitement and fulfilment at obtaining permanent residency status in the country.

In my view, this crafty, calculated and uncompromising approach, and use of public resources, through legislative powers and immigration processes, as a means to achieve a political benefit, perfectly aligned to the Cook Islands Party motives. Given the closeness and marginality of Rarotonga electorates, this government strategy turned out to fulfil a political objective.

Incidentally, on 14 June 2022, a day after the dissolution of Parliament, Government’s Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC) issued a CI News public notice released by the Solicitor General (SG) on behalf of the ACC in order to inform candidates and the general public of the requirements of lawful conduct during the election, and in particular to clarify the scope of corrupt practices. The SG stated, as we lead up to elections it is important to remember that a person cannot, at any time:

  • Offer any money, employment, or anything of value in order to persuade a person to vote or refrain from voting or
  • Offer anything to any person, in order to influence that person to procure the return of any candidate, or
  • Offer anything to any person in order to gain the vote of any person, or
  • Receive any gift or offer in exchange for procuring the return of a candidate, or
  • Receive any gift or offer in exchange for gaining the vote of any person, or
  • Receive any gift, money, employment, office, or anything of value, in return for agreeing to vote or refrain from voting, or
  • Give any money to any person that will be used in any of the above.

Anyone who does any of the above may be liable for the offence of bribery (see section 88 Electoral Act 2004).

As this is my opinion, you can draw your own conclusions, on whether or not the timing and granting of PRs any way, influenced the 247 PRs, to vote for government and the Party responsible for this special award.

The PR ceremony is a special time for our ‘families and friends’ from foreign countries to be awarded PR status and therefore celebrated in joining our Cook Islands community. Whether this honourable PR ceremony can be deemed to be an exploitation of our immigration laws that overshadowed the granting of PRs for political purposes before the elections, remains to be qualified. What is certain, under these circumstances, is that the Government, under the authority of the Minister of Immigration, took complete advantage of the situation, in order to win over, critical votes for borderline and marginal seats, by staging this event, before the elections. To stage it after the elections, would not have the desired political effect? I have evidence from two unnamed sources, who were granted PR status, that they indeed voted for the CIP. I asked them why? Both their respective answers were the same. It was the CIP who gave us our PR, so we have to support them!

In my traditional role and as the former Koutu Nui president, the Koutu Nui have made it loud and clear during our discussions with the Principal Immigration Officer, to limit the discretionary powers and political interference by the Minister in the Immigration Bill. This was ignored.

Only a thorough and independent review will untangle this political manoeuvre for the public interest. This could be an ideal review by PERCA or even the ACC itself, to look into and report its findings on the matter. Using Herbert’s interpretation of power and corruption, he concludes that political corruption is about privatisation of average citizens and the use of public resources to promote private interests. To level the political playing field, wouldn’t it be much fairer to abolish the discretionary powers of the Immigration Minister and to not grant any PR’s during the election period?

Paul Raui Pokoati Allsworth