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By Ulamila Kurai Wragg

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Feb. 4, 2008) – An independent assessment should be carried out on the capability of the government delegation ready for Norway to buy a NZ$2 million [US$1.5 million] ship says the chamber of commerce.

In a statement the chamber says that some of the team members do not have "the expertise or professional competence to assess" a ship.

Transport minister Tangata Vavia told Cook Islands News last week the delegation will buy the ship to alleviate transportation problems to the outer islands. The delegation is to include finance secretary Sholan Ivaiti, inter-island shipping company owner Tapi Taio but who will travel in his capacity as chairman of the Cook Islands Investment Corporation and NZ naval architect/surveyor Hugh Munro.

The chamber says that Ivaiti has no experience nor competence in this shipping area and has not demonstrated that he has the professional competence to provide this type of financial assessment.

"Any financial information that is required for this type of assessment can be done via receipt of information by telephone or email and alternatively the employment of a reputable ship surveyor who has the knowledge and competence to assess the financial viability of the proposed ship."

The chamber believes that Ivaiti's actions to date gives little comfort that he has the capacity or ability "to offer objective, independent and professional advice to cabinet".

It added that the comment by Vavia that they are "not concerned with the obvious conflict of interest" suggests that ministers are making their own rules and not following the finance ministry's procedures.

"Tapi Taio should be concentrating his efforts on removing his ship from the reef at the harbour entrance, as it could endanger all shipping at Avatiu port," the chamber said.

Early this year Taio Shipping had two ships servicing the outer islands -Te Kou Maru and Maungaroa. The latter now sits on the breakwater at Avatiu after it was washed up by strong winds two weeks ago.

The chamber is asking government to review their decision by seeking full information regarding the financial viability of the Norwegian ship from a reputable agent prior to the team departing.

Apart from completing a cost benefit analysis on the ship, as required by the financial procedures manual, the chamber wants government also to undertake a full tender process for a ship closer to home or within the region. -

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