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Cooks, Niua, Tokelau called mockery of self-government

By Duncan Wilson SUVA, Fiji (Islands Business Magazine, November 2009 Issue) - The National MP and head of [New Zealand] parliament’s influential foreign affairs select committee, John Hayes, wants to end self-government in the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau, saying New Zealand’s tens of millions in aid sustains a ‘wasteful’ government in those islands.

Hayes is a former diplomat and head of the Pacific desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He played a key role in resolving Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville conflict.

"I was sitting on a beach in the islands and reflecting on the tens of millions of dollars that New Zealand pours into the islands, and I got really angry,’ he told ISLANDS BUSINESS.

"New Zealand provides tens of millions of dollars in aid to the Cooks, Niue and Tokelau, but so much of that money is lost through duplication and in inefficient systems.

"New Zealand should acknowledge that while we encouraged independent self-government for our own reasons in the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau, this has benefitted a small political and bureaucratic elite, at the expense of the wider population.

"These people largely vote with their feet and emigrate, where they have a proper chance of achieving levels of education, income and opportunities that New Zealand promised with self-government, but didn’t deliver.

Hayes said self-government created inefficient and wasteful governance as islands leaders spend time out of the country at regional and foreign meetings and neglect crucial problems at home.

"They constantly travel, collecting high United Nations per diems and maximising their own income, while neglecting vital areas such as infrastructure, education and health.

"The islands should share systems across four or five key government areas—education, tax, and so forth, so there isn’t any duplication or wastage."

Hayes first pushed an end to independent government in the Cooks, Niue and Tokelau in a speech to New Zealand’s Institute of International Affairs in late October.

In that earlier speech, Hayes said Pacific islands use aid fund to build bureaucracy.

"They spend too much time and resources on activities of little or no direct benefit to the people they are meant to serve. Instead, they spend time and funding serving the needs of international organisations.

"New Zealand is providing $40 million each year to less than 3000 people living in Tokelau and Niue which is absorbed by dysfunctional systems. It is essential that we take a look at these arrangements because the people affected adversely are the very people we provide aid to."

Hayes made the point more forcefully in an interview with New Zealand’s news and current affairs programme Morning Report.

"We’re giving $40 million a year at the moment out of our aid programme--out of the pockets of my constituents here in the Wairarapa [near Wellington]--just to Niue and the Cooks’ 3000 people. I live in Greytown--two-and-a-bit-thousand people and we don’t get anything like that.

"If you look at Niue--smaller than Wairarapa College here in the Wairarapa, 1200 people or less--they’ve got 20 members of parliament, one of whom got into parliament on the basis of six votes. Now this is nonsense stuff and it’s time we said so and it’s time we said we’re going to sort this out," he told the programme.

Hayes says New Zealand can save money and benefit the islands by "going down this road cooperatively and respectively".

"We need to deal directly with the people of those entities and what I think we have to do is engage more with the communities than the leadership. The people who are going to be angry with what I’m saying are the political leaders. But they’re living on the back of smaller communities."

Hayes says that as chairman of the government’s foreign affairs, defence and trade select committee, he hopes his argument will gain influence through the group’s current inquiry into New Zealand’s relationship with South Pacific countries.

That inquiry, which began in 2006, is investigating how New Zealand can assist Pacific Islands Forum members develop sustainable economies.

But Hayes comments elicited a chilly response from the government and opposition parties.

The spokesman for foreign affairs minister Murray McCully said Hayes’ comments were simply his own.

And the opposition Labour Party spokesman on foreign affairs, who also sits on the select committee said that Hayes had "essentially condemned" the political leadership and democracy of the Cooks, Tokelau and Niue, and should apologise.

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