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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (The Cook Islands Herald, Oct. 6) - Prime Minister Hon Jim Marurai is back from his State visit to China with a NZ$6 million [US$4.5 million] grant and the question is, will this money be put towards building a new indoor sports complex for the Mini-Games or used for some other purpose?

The rumour is this money will be put into improving the roads and Avatiu Harbour. No doubt this will be confirmed over the next few days.

Cabinet met on Tuesday afternoon however it is likely that no decision will be made regarding the grant and the indoor complex until the Finance Minister returns from overseas.

In the meantime, it has been revealed that at the Cabinet meeting held on 17 September (minus Aunty Mau and Rasmussen) did not favour the option of building the indoor complex due to the financial implications of the ongoing costs.

Cabinet considered two options for the Games following a cost/benefit exercise undertaken by MFEM. The Herald understands that the exercise had all the hallmarks of a "bean counter’s" approach with no apparent regard for the wider, future sporting, health, economic or social benefits.

In a letter to the games organising committee on 24 September MFEM asked for plans to be submitted for the disposal of equipment and facilities once the games are completed.

One option considered by Cabinet was to build the multi-sports complex and upgrade existing facilities. That was estimated to cost nearly $26 million over the next 20 years. The other option, a much cheaper one, was to just upgrade existing facilities and the estimated cost is $4.1 million over the next 20 years.

While the option to build a multi-sports complex may sound expensive at $26 million, the cost when it is spread out over a 20 year period is about $1.3 million a year. That is affordable especially if government were to cut out wasteful spending on unnecessary vehicles and reduce staffing levels.

If the Chinese were to change their offer of a 2 per cent interest $9 million loan to a "grant" in other words a "free-be" then we would be paying about $540,000 a year (Average maintenance). If the grant of $6 million were to be applied again the costs would come down.

What the Cabinet did not consider it seems, is that the multi-sports complex was to be an ongoing legacy after the Games and used by up to 10 or so different sports not just the three sports (Netball, Weightlifting, Squash) that would use it during the games. Also the various sports would ensure the complex was used all year and it would attract revenue of about $200,000 per year.

It has already been estimated that the multi-sports complex would be used by nearly 3,000 people, mostly young people. This is more than 10 per cent of the population and as such is a significant number. So it cannot be said the facility would be just for a "minority" of Cook Islanders as the Financial Secretary is alleged to have commented.

Having the multi-sports complex also means we have the ability to stage regional sports events in future like the World Netball Youth Champs, the Oceania Boxing Champs and Oceania Weightlifting Champs. The money that would be pumped into the community from staging these events should not be overlooked but it seems Cabinet is prepared to turn a blind eye to this.

The multi-complex would also ensure that some major sports finally have a place they can call "home."

The main beneficiaries of a multi-sports complex would be the youth. After a young person leaves school where do they go to further their sporting career? They can’t go back to school and use the facilities there. Are our youth doomed to hanging around the streets and getting into mischief? What is the ultimate cost to society of obesity, poor health, civil disobedience, petty crime and delinquency?

The option of upgrading existing facilities is cheaper but leaves no lasting legacy. While some schools and community facilities would benefit the legacy is limited.

Cabinet is urged to re-think.

After all, the infrastructure projects are going to cost $237 million over the next 20 years. Think of the interest payments our next generation will be paying. Have we considered if the next generation will regard that as "affordable?"

It would appear then that the bean counters in MFEM would have us conduct a bargain basement games with a garage sale to follow that leaves the country with no sporting legacy to be proud of.

The Cook Islands Times: Copyright 2007 © Elijah Communications Ltd. All rights reserved

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