Cooks Opposition: PM And Cabinet ‘Losing Touch With The People’

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Democratic party leader lists government’s blunders, mishandling of events

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, July 22, 2015) – Prime Minister Henry Puna and his ‘cabinet circle’ are quickly losing touch with the people of the Cook Islands, says Opposition leader, William (‘Smiley’) Heather.

Heather, who is also leader of the Democratic Party, says the list of government’s blunders and mishandling of events over the past two years make sad reading.

"It reveals an astonishing disregard for the people of our country, as well as the sort of plain poor management that really makes me wonder if they even know what they’re doing."

"First, we had the Christmas pensioner bank account raid. In all my years in politics and as a Member of Parliament, I’ve never come across anything as poorly handled as this event.

"The fact that it happened at all was bad enough, but when the cornered PM backtracked, met with protesting pensioners in the full glare of TV cameras, and promised this and that, we saw him at something like his worst."

Heather said Financial Secretary Richard Neves had smothered the newspapers with explanations and excuses for the raid, but they had satisfied no-one.

"The issue hasn’t gone away and the pensioners continue their battle about taxes to this day.

"Second, we had the Te Mato Vai landowner bungle. Instead of settling landowner matters well in advance, cabinet let it go until landowner agreements regarding the water intake rebuilding suddenly emerged as an essential part of the project not already done.

"The PM and cabinet were immediately again on the back foot. Done the way it is being now, the landowner claims will cost a lot more and will take a lot longer to settle than government ever dreamt they would. And at the end of the day, who pays for their mistakes? As always, it’s the taxpayers."

Heather also took a shot at the prime minister over what he termed the ‘Aitutaki Sunday flight bungle’.

Out of the blue, the PM announced a referendum, hoping to influence voting in the Vaipae-Tautu by-election. The Aitutaki people voted ‘no’ to Sunday flights and the PM was again straight away on the back foot.

"He ducked, he dived, he said it wasn’t a binding vote, he tried blaming us, and in the end fell silent, hoping it would all go away."

Yet another blast from Heather came over the ‘independence’ fiasco which he said Prime Minister Puna had orchestrated personally.

"Others have pointed out the corner he’s painted himself into, but as with the other items on this list of embarrassments, there was no need for it in the first place," Heather said.

"As the PM, he owes it to all Cook Islanders to discuss plans with us first, before he parades off to New Zealand let alone the UN.

"Changing our constitution and giving up New Zealand citizenship are simply not things to go ahead with without all Cook Islanders taking part, as indeed they did in 1965 when the Constitution was passed into our law.

"I also have to draw attention yet again to the out-of-control corruption, led by government spending, that is rotting the values of our society.

"It is tolerated by those at the top as if it doesn’t matter."

Referring to the Pacific Schooners issue, Heather said one example of what he believed to be government corruption was the recent budget item for subsidising northern shipping.

"It includes a provision for a contract with a company that has been struck off the register of companies, with a ship long involved in litigation in Canada, and with no prospect of being here anytime soon. But it does have one thing that works magic in the PM’s isolated offices – an Aitutaki shareholder who has the PM’s ear, and whose access unlocks the people’s finances to private interests."

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