PENRHYN, COOK ISLANDS FISHING DEAL KILLED ITSELF

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By Jason Brown

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (January 6, 2001 – Cook Islands News)---Tangaroa Cook Islands’ proposal for northern group fishing changed several times before it was finally rejected last month, say Marine Resources officials.

"There was certainly a change in the material circumstances of the original access agreement," says Josh Mitchell, Director of Policy and Fisheries Management.

Officials briefed Cook Islands News on the background of the proposal as a result of counter claims by TCI’s Temu Okotai.

Marine Resources minister Dr Robert Woonton was accused by Okotai of "killing" TCI’s deal in favor of a "fantasy" plan from an Australian company. But Mitchell says TCI cut itself out of a deal by trying to ignore the role of ministry officials and going straight to the minister. That was the same whichever of the proposals were put forward.

"We would have been very reluctant to proceed with the original access agreement which we had problems with anyway."

Tangaroa Cook Islands got its original access agreement under the last government when draft documents were faxed to the ministry as well as former Marine Resources minister Tepure Tapaitau. Unknown to Mitchell, Tapaitau went ahead and signed the deal. Okotai was chief of staff of the Office of the Prime Minister at the time. However, finance did not come through before the agreement lapsed and the government changed. At the same briefing yesterday, Woonton said the access was extended under this government, but TCI again failed to get financing in time.

Mitchell says TCI also tried to go straight to the current minister this time.

Woonton says he relies on the advice of his officials before he makes any decision.

"The simple thing to have done would be to re-do the proposal and keep the lines of communication with the Ministry open."

That way they could better have advised on changes to the proposal that addressed concerns like waste discharge into Penrhyn lagoon, says Mitchell.

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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