OUTER ISLAND AID TO BE CONSIDERED BY COOKS

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By Florence Syme-Buchanan

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (January 18, 2000 - Cook Islands News)---Members of Parliament and mayors from the outer islands will sit down in March to debate whether MPs should have more influence in the way outer islands aid money is distributed.

Outer Islands Development Minister Tangata Vavia would like to see MPs more involved in project selection at island council levels.

"I would appreciate if MPs contribute more to what the islands want from their island councils. That's where MPs should be more involved in ... choosing what projects should be done for their islands," Vavia told Cook Islands News.

He said MPs only want "to be more involved in the initial decision making."

He wants them working with the Island Councils and choosing which projects get the thumbs up for aid funding.

"Politicians should be involved. They should be part and parcel of the island councils and coming to some agreement (over) what projects they want to drive for, whether the projects are public or private," Vavia said.

COMMITTEE

In light of a push from some outer islands MPs for a bigger deciding role on how aid money is spent, the Cabinet last week deferred endorsing the new Outer Islands Development Grant Fund Committee.

Vavia wants the Committee, headed by Finance Secretary Kevin Carr, kept independent of politicians.

He said Ministry of Finance representation on the Committee is crucial.

"I want that money accounted for properly because New Zealand is involved in the whole scheme," he said.

"The responsibility lies with us -- if we can show that we are responsible (with project aid)."

And the Outer Islands Development Minister believes government can be responsible, "if we continue to be transparent and accountable."

DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR

A NZ$ 1 million (US$ 510,800) fund has been developed from dollar for dollar contributions by the Cook Islands and New Zealand. Vavia said sharing that money among 11 islands would mean "it's really not that much."

Each outer island is expected to develop a strategic plan. Vavia said those plans would be used as a guideline on how to spend the NZ$ 1 million.

Atiu MP and Deputy Prime Minister Norman George said on Radio Cook Islands that he has hired an economist to draft a strategic plan for Atiu.

George said young people planning to leave their home islands for overseas should consider that "here is a big bag of money to help you with projects."

"You don't have to repay this money, you can ask for up to NZ$ 100,000 (US$ 51,080). So I am asking our young people, please don't leave the islands," he said.

George also plans to launch an agricultural project in Atiu, which would earn growers US$ 2,300, he said.

George would not name the product, but said he has seeds available.

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

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