OPENING STATEMENT Dr. Terepai Maoate:  Forum Economic MinistersMeeting

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OPENING STATEMENT

Dr. Terepai Maoate Prime Minister Of Cook Islands

At The

Forum Economic Ministers Meeting Rarotonga, Cook Islands June 18 – 20, 2001

Kia Orana.

Premier of Niue,Vice President of Kiribati, Honourable Ministers, Heads of Regional Organisations, Representatives of the Asian Development Bank and the Pacific Financial Technical Assistance Centre, Official Delegates, Consultants & Media

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is always a pleasure for me to welcome friends and neighbours from the Pacific Islands Forum to the Cook Islands.

The pleasure arises not only from furthering our collective voices under the unique umbrella of the Pacific Way but from a deeper experience we share as peoples, as governments, and as countries in an association of family togetherness. The warmth you feel in the Cook Islands, is the closeness of being welcomed into a home away from home.

As ministers and governments brought together under a mandate to advance economic initiatives of critical importance, we have forged an important path to strengthen the measures of reform and to further the principles of good governance in our Region.

The requirement we share is to manage the demands of the political and economic environment in both a responsible and progressive way.

Many of those demands stem from the disparity that stretches across the vastness of our region today, whether it is cultural and traditional practice, or the character and structure of our economic environment.

It’s a disparity that’s made more complex under the influence of globalisation and new technology, and which reaches deep into our lives with additional demands to broaden benefits and settle the injustices of inequity.

When we talk of social inequity or poverty, we don’t speak from the comfort of those who have been safeguarded by developed commerce and advanced lifestyles but from the harsh realities of fragile environments, vulnerable isolation, and deficient infrastructures.

Moreover, concentrated pockets of wealth and development should not mask the attention that isolated islands and rural districts require to alleviate that poverty or social hardship.

Throughout the small communities in the Cook Islands, our own efforts have been balanced by the responsibility to manage the impacts of five years of reform, and the need to address the consequences of decades of sheltered existence, limited in development and opportunity.

The need to review and take stock has now become an integral part of our processes as a Government, and as a community.

I am pleased to say that our recent national forum on accountability was a well-received, consultative mechanism, which provided widespread input on how far we have come and where our intent must be directed over the near future.

Apart from achieving sustainable economic growth, perhaps the most serious challenge for each of our countries is advancing the long arm of reform programmes and sound governance to those more isolated communities – islands or rural districts struggling with limited skills and shifting populations, and little or no experience of private enterprise and advanced infrastructure.

Where the seeds of business must be planted and allowed to mature, Government must do more than accept an overarching commitment to manage a sound economy under an ambitious but achievable micro-economic reform programme.

We must remain firm on promoting policies that are good for business. While that is our business, the private sector is in the business of producing the rewards from those policies.

We accept the necessity to minimise the costs imposed on the private sector and to limit the extent of Government expenditure. However, we can and must go further to invest in our futures.

Many of us for example, are focusing on more strategic placement of resources to lift the standards of health and education, embark on ambitious infrastructure projects in rural communities, and to cater for future security.

Certainly, this is our objective in the Cook Islands – good schools and hospitals, harbours, airports and roads in the Outer Islands, and a national superannuation scheme.

The advancement of these sectors is crucial but without the framework provided by sound management, the principles we wish to instill will not be realised.

Sound management by Government today is underpinned by fiscal prudence and priorities, which maintain budgetary surpluses and a commitment to public debt repayment.

Under this fiscal regime, the Cook Islands has an increasing focus on sustainability, improving outlooks for investment, reducing risks of exposure, and firming the foundation to achieve the Eight Principles of Accountability. Keeping our books in order is critical to achieving that foundation for accountability.

On the path toward that achievement however, our Region will continue to be challenged between the ebb and flow of trends and influences, and national economic development objectives.

International taxation issues for example, are poised to be thrust into a global forum as our Region becomes further engaged in dialogue over standards of competition.

The Pacific Islands Forum must be better prepared to enter that debate, given the importance of maintaining a legitimate, multilateral process to advance internationally accepted definitions and standards in tax competition for Offshore Financial Centres.

Our need to work more closely together on such issues is crucial, as is our commitment and cooperation as a Region to the path of sound governance and accountability to our peoples.

I wish each of you every success in those efforts at this, the Fifth Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting. Kia Orana e Kia Manuia.

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