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OUR TURN by Hon. Sir Geoffrey Henry, KBE Prime Minister of the Cook Islands

August 8, 1987


Along with the 32nd Celebration of Independence another historic event already underway is disguised by the bland name "devolution." Within the Second Reform Budget, there is an Olympic-like challenge. Just as we chose to carry out so many reforms last year, this year we chose to return self-government to the Outer Islands and to the Vaka on Rarotonga.

Moreover, we intend to do so in the strongest and most unequivocal way possible, to give local governments not only the decision-making power but the funds as well. Crudely stated, we are putting our money where our mouth is.

It was in the National Auditorium on Constitution Day just three years ago when I apologised to a packed audience of Outer Islanders for not giving them equal participation in the benefits of budget, capital improvements and aid projects. I said, then, that this would change. It has.

With the guidance of Chief Executive Officers employed by the Ministry of Outer Islands Development, the Outer Islands now hold local destiny in their hands. We trust them to make good decisions and to be wholly responsible with nationally generated funds, albeit subject to strict guidelines and accountability. They will have the CEOs to advise them and to liaise, not just with the officials in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development as before but with their own Ministry of Outer Islands Development.

Government has been attacked from certain quarters for the boldness and totalness of devolution. Norman George would have us decentralise government in small steps or not at all. What he chooses to forget is the impressive way Cook Islanders have handled massive reform-generated changes thus far. Why should we think that Outer Islanders will handle across-the-board self-government less impressively? By this faith in our fellow Cook Islanders, we are opening for them a second door to greater self-determination, self respect and -- if they take up the challenge -- prosperity.

And, once the Outer Islands economies can contribute equally with Rarotonga to the Gross National Product, then this nation will be truly strong. Some say that will take a long time. Perhaps. But, we must start now. We owe it to the people of the Outer Islands; we owe it to our nation as a whole if it is ever to realize its full potential.

In my opening address at the National Retreat last January, I enunciated a vision that has emerged as still another product of reform. Taking 1996 as our start point, I projected ten years ahead to the year 2005. By then, I said, we could "achieve a standard of living equal to if not better than any in the region, and in harmony with our culture and environment"

We Cook Islanders have our own ideas of what quality of life means, but our surest way to quantify "standard of living" is to compare ourselves with New Zealand, the developed country with which we are most familiar. Indeed, we have long aspired to attain that standard of living. And, we have both the opportunity and the will to do so. However, until recently, we have traveled that road with many sacks on our back: large government, heavy taxation, excessive regulations, inadequate human resources and neglected Outer Islands. But, now, we have begun to lighten these burdens and can quicken our pace.

Exactly how we can achieve Vision 2005 was wonderfully stated by the Queen's Representative in his address to those gathered in the auditorium for the Celebration Day Ceremony. He spoke of the prospects for growth through wise and productive use of our land and our oceans. Recalling an ancient proverb, Sir Apenera challenged Cook Islanders to wake up and work together to make that future come to pass. Translated, it went, as he said, "Sleep on, sleepers. Awake, you warriors."

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