Political Reform Must Precede Public Service Reform: Cooks Opposition

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Public Service is ‘de facto avenue for corruption’: Demos MP

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, July 13, 2015) – Reform of the Cook Islands’ Public Service cannot begin before the issue of political reform is tackled head-on, say Opposition MPs.

The Cook Islands’ government Public Service Strategy is set to transform the different roles and operations in the public service by 2025.

Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas says the Public Service Strategy consultation panel had their last meeting on Tuesday and hopes their report will be completed this week before being presented to Cabinet.

Democratic Party MP for Murienua James Beer says when Opposition Members of Parliament met the panel they made it ‘very clear’ they want to be alert to a potential repeat of the situation 1996, where a large number public servants lost their jobs and left the country.

"We also stated that we need to call this strategy what it really is – it is the reform of the Public Service."

In 1996, half of all public servants lost their jobs in the name of increasing productivity and saving costs. Those who remained received higher salaries according to the logic that better-paid employees would do better work. The lessons of 1996 were vitally important, said Beer, and the events that occurred from that period had left a lasting impact on both the economy and the population.

"...And a repeat of such could, in my opinion, push the country over the edge, if we’re not there already."

The ultimate reason why the Cook Islands’ Public Service has become too large and expensive is the ‘continuing exploitation by politicians of the Public Service as a tool for political sponsorship, nepotism and favours’, says Beer.

"It has become the de facto avenue for corruption - generally in our recent history, but in particular for the politicians of this government."

Because of this, reform of the Public Service must start urgently with political reform, he says.

"Without political reform, the weeds, so to speak, will just grow back."

The catalyst to bring about societal and economic reforms is to re-establish voter equity and create a system to reduce the power of the Office of the Prime Minister, says Beer.

"Such a reduction will shift the power back to the people, where it should be."

Representatives from the Pa Enua, Members of Parliament, non-government organisations, young people and representatives from the private sector have all met with the panel to have their say on how they would like the Public Service to operate. Thomas says the panel has aimed to ensure all of these views are included in the report.

Asked about political reform in the strategy, Thomas said it was up to the country’s political leaders to make that decision.

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