COOK ISLANDS LAGGING BEHIND IN REFORM PROCESS: HEALTH SECRETARY ARAITI

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By Moana Moeka'a

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (July 16, 2002 – Cook Islands News)---Is the Cook Islands moving back to the good old days of government phantom workers, half-day holidays, late starts and early finishes, and when public transport was freely used by individuals for personal use?

One may be inclined to think that after reading a paragraph in Health secretary Tupu Araiti's resignation via a media release.

But Araiti refuses to elaborate too much on the issue in his release, which reflects on the reform process in which he claims that the Cook Islands has "slipped badly" in comparison to Samoa.

"Let's just leave it at that," he says. "It's just time to move on. Yes, it's a better job with better pay," says Araiti of his move to take on a senior post in Wellington, New Zealand next month.

"The consolidation or anchoring of some of the reform processes has not been done or otherwise allowed to drift. My only hope is that the reform process introduced into the Cook Islands has not been in vain," states his release. "Some of the instruments for consolidating the public sector reform have been diluted over the past years, therefore rendering it ineffective. In hindsight, one can only grieve in despair of the sacrifice by so many back in 1996."

When asked as to what he means by "consolidation"', Araiti replies, "It's like sticking a pole in the ground with rocks around it. If you don't give it a strong base the pole is vulnerable to being pushed around, left, right and center. The cement has not been added to the reform package. We haven't added value to the process.

"We have not been implementing what we should be doing in terms of financial management. One has to ask a number of questions. The taxation question is one. The budget process is another, where things are done on a unilateral basis instead of a consensus approach. There are things that ought to have been done but have not been done."

Araiti returned to the Cooks Islands during the height of the economic crisis in 1996 to assist with accrual and output accounting in the public sector reform process.

"[It] was a year when things were quite tough -- reduced wages, long hours, precarious and sensitive calculations and fire fighting was the order of the day. GDP was plummeting, reaching its lowest ebb of minus 4%. The pain of the time was real. Some local shops refused to accept government checks, accepting hard cash only! Fortunately, those days are long gone and my only hope is that they do not return."

After working for four years in the Ministry of Financial Economic Management (MFEM), Araiti moved to head the Ministry of Health -- Te Marae Ora -- where he is currently working until August 7, when he steps down from his position.

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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