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January 11, 1998


By Hon. Sir Geoffrey Henry, KBE Prime Minister, Cook Islands

There are 18 Heads of Ministries or HOMs. They manage what are, in effect,18 separate businesses. Specifically, their responsibilities are:

Each HOM agrees to accept an allocated portion of the national budget prior to the fiscal year and to achieving an agreed set of "outputs" within that total dollar amount. They also agree to act as "good employers" which specifically means providing:

Section 16 of the Public Service Act of 1995-96 does not mince words as to the powers of the HOMs. It says that the HOMs shall "have the powers necessary to carry out the functions, responsibilities and duties imposed" on them by this Act and under any other Act.

Section 19 is worth noting as well: "If at any time an employer [i.e. a HOM] finds that a greater number of persons are employed than is considered necessary to the efficient working" of the Ministry, then such persons may be demoted, transferred to another Ministry with the consent of the other HOM or terminated."

I said above that these are independent "businesses." Do you now think that to be an exaggeration? If you still think so, turn then to Section 29(2) of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management Act which places financial management obligations squarely on the HOMs, including:

I have always stressed that our HOMs are the thinking core of government. Since the 1996 reform, Cabinet has been freed to focus on and to articulate overall policy while the responsibility for carrying out that policy has clearly been transferred. It is up to the HOMs to make the choices in an operational sense within the guidelines outlined above. They have been granted unprecedented freedom to run our affairs and, with that, full accountability for the results.

(Note that, if Cabinet has disagreed with a HOM's budgetary bids, the Minister and the HOM may need to renegotiate the HOM's contract, i.e. change the outputs. In the end, the HOM must be wholly satisfied or resign.)

Cabinet and Parliament -- with the advice of the National Development Council and the HOMs -- have a crucial responsibility over the next several months to decide, first, on a supplementary budget and, then, on the budget for 1998-99 fiscal year. However, once these processes are accomplished, the task devolves to eighteen men and women and their own chosen staff.

After that, it is all about HOMs.

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