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By Moana Moeka’a

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (June 18 2002 – Cook Islands News)---Vaimaanga project site landowner Pa Ariki says preparatory work to complete the hotel (earlier known as "The Sheraton") is expected to begin next month -- almost 10 years after work originally stopped at the controversial Rarotonga site.

"They hope to start work in July. They will be sending their people down next month," said Pa after last Friday’s Leases Approval Tribunal sitting which approved the lease to the proposed developers, the New Zealand-based Covington Group.

It took four sittings for the LAT to approve the lease from Pa to the developers, after Cabinet issued a directive to the tribunal not to approve the lease without taking into consideration the government’s position.

While concerns were raised by deputy Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Henry in a letter to the editor in yesterday’s Cook Islands News, counsel for the landowner, Tim Arnold, told last Friday’s sitting that a couple of issues — like the relocation of the road and waste management — were matters outside of the lease application before the tribunal.

"Government’s position is now clear. Government’s position deals with matters outside of this lease… This ought not affect whether or not this tribunal should proceed with this application."

"It is immaterial to my client whether the road is relocated or not," Arnold told the tribunal regarding the possible realignment of the main road around the inland side of the hotel.

However, Arnold said his client intends to give the lessee full support in working through these issues.

On the question of the realignment, tribunal chairman Tere Mataio pointed out that the question of compensation could emerge, especially if the hotel decides to purchase that proposed section of road, some time in the future.

"One can only wonder with concern why the lease was rushed through for a developer who is far from ready to perform," wrote Sir Geoffrey in his letter.

"Possession of this valuable asset will shift to Covington on the confirmation and the execution of the lease.

"One wonders what might happen to this valuable asset if for reasons beyond their control — perish the thought — Covington is unable to execute the project," said the Deputy Prime Minister.

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