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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Feb. 5, 2008) - Sweeping fuel import, distribution and pricing changes were announced yesterday by the Cook Islands government. The review is an attempt by government to address the fast rising cost to consumers.

Government is intent on coming up with ways to minimize the increasing cost to the economy of rising fuel prices, says DPM and minister of finance Sir Terepai Maoate.

Terepai explained that as has been done in Samoa, government will employ an experienced company to provide advice on the best and most suitable fuel model for the Cook Islands to adopt. This could be through taking full ownership and control of petroleum products, or possibly through a joint venture with a private company.

He added that cabinet has approved a full review of the national tender structure employed by the Samoan government and for a similar structure best suited to the Cooks to be devised. He stressed that government is still mindful not to compete with the private sector.

Cabinet has also agreed that a review be done as soon as possible of the fuel pricing template to ensure it is ‘more reasonable.’ A further review of the legality of its current agreement between fuel importers TOA/Mobil is part of this.

Also leading the recommendations is the upgrade of Avatiu Harbour to enable larger tankers to offload fuel.

A scoping exercise will be undertaken on potential sites to build extra tanks to increase storage capacity to enable larger tankers to ship petroleum products here.

Terepai confirmed that government is also to appoint an expert and independent firm of fuel facility managers to manage and monitor national petroleum supply and distribution in the national interest.

Setting up a state-owned agency for fuel distribution to which the fuel facility managers will report has also been given the go ahead by cabinet.

Terepai said temporarily transferring the monitoring and management of fuel importation and pricing from Internal Affairs to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) is one of the recommendations recently approved by cabinet aimed at keeping closer watch on national fuels costs.

The move has been fully supported by internal affairs secretary Tamarii Tutangata who says, "Government;’s initiative to seek ways to reduce petrol prices deserves support by all government agencies."

Tutangata agrees with the transfer of responsibility to MFEM which "has the staff with qualifications and experience which are more readily adapted to fuel pricing than those in internal affairs." HG/DPM Office

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