Political Reform Key To Cook Islands Future

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PM Puna opens Development Partners Meeting

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Feb. 11, 2015) – Political reform is necessary for the future development of the Cook Islands.

That was the message from panellists during the first discussion at the Development Partners Meeting yesterday.

Themed ‘Journey to Development: 50 years in the Cook Islands’, the meeting began at the National Auditorium with a welcome from Prime Minister Henry Puna.

Present were about 35 participants representing the outer islands, donor countries, development banks and other Pacific nations.

Puna noted the Cook Islands would not be where it was today without its special relationship with New Zealand.

"We acknowledge the importance of having key partnerships, but understand that solutions should start here, as responsibility begins at home," he said.

"The Cook Islands remains vulnerable and at risk on several fronts, but this Government is committed to growing opportunities for our people. Our friends and helpers here today have been instrumental in helping us to achieve some of these goals."

The theme of the first panel discussion reflected on 50 years of development in the Cook Islands by sharing different perspectives and discussing change that has taken place since1965.

National Council of Women president Vaine Wichman said political reform was necessary for development.

"We need to have national seats, not just constituency seats, then just watch the political reform happen.

"We also need more women at the table – that is when the best decisions will be made."

Another panellist, Air Rarotonga chief executive Ewan Smith, who has lived in the Cook Islands for 42 years, recalled being chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in the 1990s.

"This was a time of economic challenges and I remember that we made the comment then that as long as the political system remained unstable so too would the economic sector."

To protect the distinct Polynesian culture that attracts tourists here, the needs of the Cook Island people needed to come first, he said.

Retired lawyer and former MP Iaveta Short said the political system in the Cook Islands was ‘broken’.

"We need to stop fighting amongst ourselves because it just marginalises the population – politicians need to make the changes. But they won’t because it may jeopardise their own seats in Parliament. The two main political parties need to work together to make a change."

The fact that Cook Islands’ laws were out of date was blocking development and criminal. Land and commercial laws need to be updated to reflect the Cook Islands of today, he said.

But Minister of Finance Mark Brown said the problem with political reform was that each outer island had its own unique identity.

"If we told these smaller islands that we were going to put them in a different island group, I think we all know what their response would be."

The session ended on a high note from the European Union Ambassador to the Pacific Andrew Jacobs who praised the Cook Islands Government for putting on the event.

"This is as good as it gets, and it just goes to show the way the Cook Islands has been successful in communicating its development agenda to development partners," he said.

"It shows ownership and leadership and makes our jobs easier, but also our donations more successful."

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