Cooks PM Defends Payout To Manihiki Land

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Claimants
Police complaint filed against claimants allegedly aided by PM

By Florence Syme-Buchanan

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Sept. 22, 2015) – Prime minister Henry Puna is sticking by his decision to advance $41,000 [US$26,000] to 10 Manihiki land claimants saying it was needed to diffuse an unstable situation on the island.

The money was urgently paid to the land claimants while they were in Rarotonga for Te Maeva Nui celebrations so they could go shopping before returning to Manihiki.

In a rare statement issued by his press officer Trevor Pitt, PM Puna professed to be surprised that a complaint had been laid with police about the threats made by the land claimants to vandalise the two solar power plants on Manihiki if they weren’t paid out.

The police complaint was laid by businessman and Pastor George Pitt. Pitt believes the Manihikians committed a criminal offence and were "aided and abetted by the prime minister." He is of the view that both the Manihiki group and prime minister need to be charged.

Trevor Pitt said the police complaint had not been communicated to the Prime Minister by any of the government agencies, including Police and Crown Law.

"He is not yet prepared to comment on any detailed information that the complaint may refer to until he has the opportunity to see it," said Pitt.

Pitt said the prime minister "stands by the urgency of the decision that Cabinet needed to make to diffuse an unstable situation in Manihiki."

Puna welcomed the opportunity to clarify government’s actions, and to dispel any rumours and innuendo that might be circulating about the Manihiki land compensation issue, he added.

The Office of the Prime Minister has not disclosed how the $41,000 was shared out amongst the 10 Manihiki land claimants. The Land Court has yet to determine the claims made by a number of Manihikians to land on which the solar power plants are built on Tauhunu and Tukao atolls.

The land claims of some of the 10 who were advanced money have been challenged by other Manihiki landowners.

Government had tried to access Manihiki land compensation funds held by the land court, but this was refused by Justice Patrick Savage. Savage declined the application by Crown Law, stating at the hearing that in his view it was ‘improper’ for the court to ‘in some way aid the Crown in dealing with those monies…’

The Manihiki land claimants were paid out the same day Justice Savage declined the application by Crown Law.

The prime minister had said the Manihiki landowners had been very patient in waiting for over a year for their compensation funds to be paid.

However, it is not clear how the Manihiki Island Council, PM Puna and his officials determined that the 10 Manihikians could be advanced land compensation when their land claims have yet to be properly confirmed by the court.

It has been confirmed that a number of other Cook Islands landowners whose land was taken by government warrant have been waiting over 30 years to be paid compensation.

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