Cooks Finance Minister Defends Telecom Deal

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Brown: Opposition unrealistic about financial affairs

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, March 2, 2014) – Minister of Finance Mark Brown has hit back at the Opposition’s claims that the government did not fight to keep Telecom Cook Islands locally owned.

This follows the sale of Spark New Zealand’s 60 per cent interest in Telecom Cook Islands to Samoan company Bluesky for $23 million [US$17.4 million] last week.

Opposition leader William ‘Smiley’ Heather said the government should have intervened in the sale.

But Brown says Heather’s comments demonstrate a lack of understanding and confusion over the sale of shares.

"His comments on the government spending our cash reserves are either ignorant or malicious," said Brown.

"Our current cash reserves stand at about $16 million [US$12 million].

"Thank God the Opposition are not in power, otherwise they would have spent it all to buy a business for the government to run. Telecommunications has been successfully run by the private sector for over two decades."

While in Samoa last week, Brown said he was fortunate to meet with the board of directors and staff of Bluesky.

"The excitement of the staff and directors at this new business relationship with our Cook Islands TCI was very evident.

"As the Minister responsible for the economy, I am very happy that this joint venture is the first real business partnership between Samoa and the Cook Islands," he said.

Bluesky announced last week that it would open up 15 per cent of Teleraro to be bought by local investors, while 10 per cent has been put aside for TCI staff.

"The ownership structure that has allowed TCI staff to become shareholders and the unit trust blocks that will be available to individual Cook Islanders demonstrates Bluesky’s commitment to our people and our community," said Brown

Further discussions with Samoan Ministers touched on encouraging the aviation transport sector to establish direct air links between Apia and Rarotonga, along with encouragement for seeking alternative shipping routes between our two countries, Brown said.

"This was received with great enthusiasm."

CINews has also received reports of a steady stream of people wearing Telecom uniforms going in and out of Clarkes Building to submit their share purchases last week.

Telecom Cook Islands chairman, Temu Okotai announced on Friday that Bluesky Group chief executive officer Adolfo Montenegro had been appointed interim chief executive officer for TCI, effective immediately. Okotai also announced that the board had delegated the search for the permanent CEO to Mr Montenegro.

"I am delighted that Adolfo has agreed to accept the position of TCI’s interim chief executive," he said.

"This role will be in addition to his new role as director on the TCI board. "Representing one of the leading telecommunications providers in the Pacific, Adolfo has been closely engaged with TCI for the past two years.

"His proven leadership and expertise, along with his years of experience in telecommunications, will be of great value to our organisation over the coming months as we integrate the companies."

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