OPPOSITION ECONOMICS AND CLOSET ECONOMISTS

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OUR TURN

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

March 1, 1998

Opposition economics appears to be a contradiction of terms like army intelligence and parliamentary decorum. Some find it impossible to oppose my Government without talking economic blarney. Last week, the Hon Terepai Maoate came out in favor of "more investment." So far so good. But, he right away puts his foot into it by saying, "economists have repeatedly sternly warned government that their disingenuous reform policies cannot resolve but only complicate our economic problems."

Will the Leader of the Opposition kindly do us all a service by naming which stern economists have warned against a balanced budget? Which experts find fault with fiscal responsibility, a PERCA watchdog committee, the institutions of Retreats and a National Development Council, the privatization of costly government businesses, the requirement that Heads of Ministries contract to produce outputs, the deregulation of a liquor monopoly, a new tax regime with the full support of the business community, and the creation of a Development Investment Board to promote investment?

Once Maoate's stern but mysterious persons have come out of the closet, we will be able to ask them exactly how the above listed reforms have worked to discourage investment. Why is it, we will ask, that every ADB and NZODA-funded economist (the ones with real names, degrees and experience) has unreservedly endorsed each and every aspect of our fiscal and economic reform program? Real, not imaginary, economists say that similar bold reforms are not only sensible but have been successful in encouraging economic stability and investment elsewhere -- for example, in New Zealand and Great Britain.

Our own Leader/Doctor/Economic-Guru went on to say: "The pattern of economic and political instability explains the prolonged reluctance to invest." Well, then, what explains the million dollars invested in The Bond, several millions soon to be invested in the CITC shopping center, a proposed 50 room resort in Aitutaki, a proposed ship repair yard in western Avatiu Harbor, the recent purchase of a new 32 meter commercial fishing vessel, a new foreign-cuisine restaurant, the advent of numerous small businesses and farms and so on and on. If this be "reluctance to invest," then let us have more of it!

The facts are that the economy has bottomed out after a two-year decline and is showing unmistakable signs of recovery. Politically, that is information that the Opposition would much prefer to sweep under their dual carpets. And they will try to do so again and again as the truth of economic recovery emerges step by step.

Sadly for their polemics, tourism is slowly rising with a positive outlook, construction activity is up, agriculture protocols have been advanced assuring greater food exports while import substitution of food products has also increased. Several new commercial local fishing ventures are approaching at-sea operation meaning more local fish and more exports as well. With aid-funding, the one-off reconstruction of Manihiki's villages will add its own boost to sales and employment while the Northern Group pearl industry -- only slightly setback by Cyclone Martin -- will continue to grow and, hereafter, pay its proper share of taxes.

Nevertheless, the blarney continues: "The opposition on the other hand has already secured new investors into this nation," says Dr Maoate. Which new investors would they be? Or are they, also, to remain in the closet along with your unknown economists?

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