CONTROVERSIAL MEDICAL SCHOOL MOVES OUT OF COOKS HOSTEL

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By Ulamila Kurai Wragg

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 7) – The South Pacific School of Medicine has paid a further NZ$16,000 [US$11,800] to the Rakahanga hostel committee before closing its doors for the last time next month.

This month marks one year of the school's occupancy of the hostel for which they paid NZ$50,000 [US$36,900] for the first six months of tenancy. They moved into the hostel on May 29, 2006.

The school continued to pay rent on a monthly basis to the hostel after the first six months.

Member of parliament for Takuvaine Mama Ngai Tupa who is also a hostel committee member says that the school paid NZ$16,000 for rent of the last two months and will be out by July.

"They've paid for another two months and by July they are out of the hostel," she said.

Neither the medical school professors nor the school administrator Lily Henderson could be reached for comment.

Phone calls to the hostel remain unanswered and the phone line to the students' accommodation has been disconnected.

It is understood that the students and teachers have all left after government publicly announced that it would not support the institution, dashing its dreams of being acknowledged by the World Health Organization.

The school, funded by American Dr Larry Sands, faced considerable opposition from members of the public and also medical professionals overseas. Most questioned the credibility of its founder and teaching staff.

Last year, deputy Prime Minister Dr Terepai Maoate asked the Development Investment Board for a background report on Sands. Maoate apparently wanted to know about alleged convictions in Sands’ past.

[PIR editor’s note: According to PIR news files, last year it was revealed that Dr. Larry Sands, the U.S. citizen behind the project, had a felony conviction for mail fraud in 1992 and had also been disciplined for prescribing the wrong medication for an obese patient. The felony had not turned up in the Interpol check that the Investment Board requests for would-be investors. Investment Board chairman Mark Brown said Dr. Sands had claimed the school would be a multi-million dollar project. But instead, he had rented the Rakahanga Hostel for US$31,000.]

The school initially wanted to cater for 25 students per semester, who would spend 72 weeks on campus, and 72 weeks either in the United States or United Kingdom before graduating.

The school was also offering pre-medical scholarships for Cook Islanders while U.S. students paid at least US$39,000 (NZ$52,800).

In the meantime, in a related Cook Islands News story, Lily Henderson, the local administrator of the South Pacific School of Medicine says that the school may be moving out of the Rakahanga hostel in July but it will continue to operate in the Cook Islands.

While government has refused to give the school official recognition, Henderson says the Development Investment Board has informed them that it is "business as usual."

"It is good to know that some heads of ministries are guided by the act and are not wavered by the demands and whims of certain politicians," she says.

Henderson says while there are currently no staff or students on campus "the school remains open because anything can happen."

The school was initially recognized by government, but deputy Prime Minister Dr Terepai Maoate later reneged on that.

Recognition by the government would put the school on the World Health Organization (WHO) listing and enable its American owner Larry Sands to invest in a campus. The listing would make the school a fully-fledged medical school for post-graduate studies for 25 students per semester. Students were to spend 72 weeks on campus and 72 weeks either in the United States or United Kingdom before graduating. It was also offering pre-medical scholarships for Cook Islanders while U.S. students paid at least US$39,000 (NZ$52,800) per annum.

Henderson says that from her understanding, one of the main concerns was that the school failed to build a campus as it had undertaken.

"We stressed to both the Development Investment Board and the first review team (that consisted of Janet Maki, Dr Roro Daniels, Charles Little, Peter Etches and Mark Short) that the principals were prepared to invest substantial sums in the Cook Islands when the school obtained WHO and IMED recognition," she says.

She adds that both bodies require evidence that the school is in operation, so a business decision was made to lease the Rakahanga hostel at NZD8,333 [US$6,150] a month.

"So what is it that government found so sinister about the school, that other eminent Cook Islands doctors found so favorable? Is it perhaps because they (doctors) took the time and effort to see for themselves while the leaders of this government allowed their political stance to come between this worthy cause?" Henderson asked. "The question I pose to the people of the Cook Islands is what possible harm the school could cause. The positives are immense, more trained doctors, locals trained on full scholarships, local expenditure by staff and students. Doctors were willing to help the sick, free of charge. Not forgetting the benefits to our northern neighbors the people of Rakahanga to name a few. These were the basis of my decision to be involved with the medical school."

Henderson has challenged Maoate's decision with his recent track record.

"Now take a moment and look at your deputy prime minister for instance. Here is the man who visited and gave support to the 'anti Christ' the very Reverend Moon, and encourages the oppressive communist Chinese regime to set up camp in our country by erecting houses of western justice that they deny to their own people," she said. "As a Cook Islander, I am extremely embarrassed by the fact that both cabinet and the Development Investment Board initially gave support for the school and now at the stroke of the 'Maoate' pen, it is over. What does that really say about our leaders?"

 

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