The Cook Islands Herald

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Dec. 16, 2009) – The announcement that came on Wednesday morning of an out of court settlement reached between Government, Apex Agencies (TOA) and Triad Petroleum, also came a container load of unanswered questions.

The settlement in regards to damages and costs sees TOA receiving NZ$1.75 million [US$1.2 million] and Triad NZ$73,000 [US$51,000] in legal costs.

The parties may have settled their differences through mediation but at what cost in terms of damage to reputations, public confidence and institutional integrity?

"Common sense has prevailed finally" says the Chamber of Commerce, "with Government halting a tank-farm purchase that was ill-conceived from the outset. This at least is a very satisfactory outcome from the Toa / Triad / Government mediation. Any further developments in a fuel policy can now proceed in a consultative manner, engaging all the players."

"The public are now waiting to hear how much of the taxpayer’s money is to be paid out in damages to the various parties. If the total amount is millions of dollars, then surely whoever led government into this debacle must be held to account. If money - that could have gone to schools and hospitals - has gone instead to extricating inept officials from the mess they created, then heads need to roll."

"There is no doubt that the mediated settlement, hidden behind a veil of confidentiality, comes at a lower political cost to the Government than litigation. However, there might well be a high financial cost to the taxpayers. Secrecy is very expedient, but the proper use of public money requires transparency and accountability."

"Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce continues to support true competition in the marketplace, with a minimum of involvement by Government in the commercial arena".

In reaching a settlement, government avoids the embarrassment and ordeal of a substantive hearing set for next year. At the substantive hearing, all cards would have had to have been put "on the table."

Worse, the integrity of our institutional structures would have been exposed as very weak. For instance, the quality of legal advice from the Solicitor General’s Office would have come under the microscope. Where were the checks and cross checks?

The secrecy is understandable from a "commercial sensitivity" viewpoint but the boundaries become blurred when government itself becomes involved in a private sector matter using public monies for which it is accountable to the public.

Also exposed as weak and insecure is the institution of "Cabinet." Maintaining such a small Cabinet –six members- promotes incompetence, conflicts of interest and "corner cutting." While the country has "grown up" since 1965, Cabinet has remained stunted and unable to efficiently deal with the magnitude and depth of issues that abound in 2009. Competing Ministries have the same Ministers and many issues are not receiving the depth of attention they warrant.

The Toa issue has opened more than just a can of worms, it’s opened a Pandora’s Box.

Sadly it’s revealed that the very heart of our democratic system, Cabinet, is incompetent.

Cook Islands Herald: Copyright 2006 Cook Islands Herald online . All rights reserved.

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