COOK ISLANDS PARLIAMENT ADJOURNED UNTIL MARCH 2000

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By Alex Sword

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (December 22, 1999 – Cook Islands News)---Parliament adjourned for the 20th Century yesterday and will resume on March 22, giving the current government three months to get itself into working mode after more than a month in power and four afternoons of very busy parliamentary sessions.

Four new items of legislation have been passed and debate was completed on the Public Expenditure Review Committee reports before the House.

However, there's been some criticism about the new legislation being too rushed.

Last week parliament passed the Public Holidays and Rarotonga Environment Amendment bills. The Electoral Amendment (No.2) and International Shipping bills were passed yesterday.

IN-CAMERA

Yesterday's parliamentary session involved in-camera sessions where parliamentarians went off-air and discussed the new bills along with various consultants, and then resumed parliament on-air for the second and third readings of the bills.

There was some public concern yesterday about the bills being dealt with in-camera given that open-government is the operative phrase.

Government spokesman Wilkie Rasmussen said in-camera sessions helps to speed up the debate process.

He said it allows government and the opposition to sit down with drafters of legislation and other legal advisers in Parliament who can explain the particular legislation before the House. "It allows the House to have someone explain bills who is not a member of the House," says Rasmussen.

The explanations allow both sides to agree on the legislative changes and give their support to the Bill.

Solicitor, Tim Arnold, was among those called in during the in-camera session on the International Shipping Bill.

ELECTORAL

The Electoral Amendment (No.2) Bill presented by Minister of Justice Tangata Vavia makes special provision for the holding of the second By-election in the Pukapuka-Nassau constituency.

An explanatory note to the new bill states: "Parliamentarians are aware of the delay in a confirmed appointment of a Member of Parliament for the Pukapuka/Nassau constituency. The delay has arisen as a result of election petitions, which have exposed the complexities and confusion surrounding the administration of the principal Act in this constituency."

The principal Act is the Electoral Act 1998.

The explanatory note further says, "It is intended that this Bill will alleviate some of those difficulties in order to bring to an end, the vacancy of the position of the Member of Parliament for Pukapuka/Nassau, in this Parliamentary term."

Among its provisions the bill requires electors on the current Pukapuka/Nassau electoral roll - and any other persons who may qualify - to apply afresh for registration on a special roll for the second Pukapuka/Nassau by-election (the date of which is yet to be announced).

The constituency roll will be a new, and a temporary one, as it is for the purposes of the by-election only. The current ongoing roll for Pukapuka/Nassau under the Electoral Act 1998 will not be removed or replaced by the special roll. Its operation will merely be suspended, and will continue to exist once the by-election is over.

SHIPPING

Transport Minister Dr Robert Woonton presented the International Shipping Bill.

The bill's provisions basically ensure that control and regulation of Cook Islands Shipping remains in the hands of the Cook Islands Government.

Three international shipping licenses for services to and from the Cook Islands currently exist, to enhance services and promote competition. The bill ensures that competitive forces are not taken advantage of by those enjoying a dominant position in regional shipping, and aims to prevent the establishment of a monopoly or cartel of Cook Islands international shipping services.

The bill also addresses the activities of foreign interests, making provision to prevent anti-competitive or unfair practices.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands New Online.

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