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By Jason Brown

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (September 5, 2000 – Cook Islands News)---Suspicious. Pukapuka opposition candidate Inatio Akaruru is convinced that a copra subsidy is aimed at a by-election just under four weeks from now and not development on the island.

"It is bribery," Akaruru alleges, saying "Government is trying to bribe the copra producers of Pukapuka."

If that is not the case, then why is government only promoting the scheme on Pukapuka? What about Rakahanga, Manihiki and Penrhyn? he asked.

Government is backing a scheme where their preferred shipper Tapi Taio pays NZ$ 500 (US$ 209.50) per ton for copra. Of that, NZ$ 150 (US$ 62.85) is a government subsidy, most of which would presumably go to freight on Taio Shipping -- owned by the prime minister’s under secretary, Tapi Taio.

One source said the copra money is being guaranteed by the government. Cook Islands News could not confirm that. Nor was it clear whether the government has done a study to see if the copra scheme will make any money for harvesters.

Akaruru doubts whether copra harvesters will see the money anyway. The prime minister, Akaruru says, told the people of Pukapuka on Thursday that over two weeks ago that the money for the copra had been sent from Rarotonga and was in the post office.

"Why isn’t the money paid out? I have my own suspicions. I’m thinking that this money wasn’t meant to be paid out. Possibly after the by-election the money might be sent back to Rarotonga."

Akaruru admits "that’s just a guess on my part."

But, in the past, copra producers were paid as soon as their harvest was weighed, he said.

Last Thursday, "the money is still in the post office. What’s the delay in paying the people their copra money?" Akaruru asked.

Government and Taio Shipping have a poor record in copra so far. On one occasion, harvesters in Pukapuka’s copra island, Nassau, were paid by Taio Shipping in food instead of cash, said Akaruru.

In April, Nassau residents had harvested seven tons of copra but waited in vain for Taio Shipping to arrive to take it away, he said.

"They lost that. The copra just rotted away. Pukapuka copra producers are being bluffed by government and Nassau is being mislead by government."

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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