Cooks PM Accused Of Interfering In Beauty

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

Pageant Management
Puna alleged to have abused power, defamed CI Pageant Association

By Sarah Wilson

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Sept. 24, 2015) – The Miss Cook Islands Pageant Association has fired back at the Prime Minister for getting involved in pageant conflict, claiming he is abusing his position of power.

The accusation comes amidst a court conference between the original pageant association and the newly-formed Miss Cook Islands Association (MCIA).

Prime Minister Henry Puna filed an affidavit to the Rarotonga High Court, urging them to think of public interest in the matter, and suggesting that the petition to wind up MCIPA be considered.

"We at MCIPA have never comprehended, and still (cannot) why the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands ever got involved in our pageant," say MCIPA executives in a joint press release.

Initially, they say they gave the PM the benefit of the doubt and attempted to meet with him on several occasions to at least let him know their side of the story.

"One would think a Prime Minister would at least prefer to be well informed before making any decisions, especially one that didn’t concern his job."

The MCIPA representatives say they also have copies of correspondences to the secretary of the Miss Pacific Islands organisation written by Nick Henry, chairman of the 50th celebrations committee.

According to MCIPA, the correspondence defamed the association and requested that Samoa take back the Miss Pacific Islands franchise from MCIPA president Clee Marsters.

"This was the beginning of the international embarrassment, instigated by the Prime Minister."

In his affidavit, Puna said the Samoan Prime Minister had a prominent role in the Miss Pacific Islands franchise itself, and he had raised the Cook Islands situation with his counterpart.

Puna went on to say that the Samoan PM shared in his discomfort at the unfolding situation.

However, MCIPA have defended themselves against this statement, saying after several confirmations from Samoa to Puna that Marsters won the bid to host Miss Pacific, and that the right cannot be transferred to anyone else, Puna continued on his "embarrassing mission" and promised MCIA that he would continue his talks with Samoa.

However, they say their biggest worry is not MCIPA, because they know the association will most likely still be around long after the current members are gone.

Their biggest worry is the "embarrassing, ill-informed" decisions by the Prime Minister, they say.

They are also concerned about the government money Puna claims to have put towards the pageant.

"We would like to know how much of taxpayers’ money he gave to Dianna Clarke-Bates and her team, as we wish to make it clear that not one cent came to us at MCIPA."

MCIPA executive Elena Tavioni says government initially offered their association money for the pageant, but they turned it down, preferring to find sponsorship than use taxpayers’ money.

"We are now left with no option but to seek legal advice in regard to the PM’s interference in our association and we would also like to instigate an inquiry."

Member of the opposition, James Beer has also weighed in on the Prime Ministers involvement in the dispute.

"Although I don’t wish to comment on the court proceedings as such, it’s difficult to ignore the Prime Minister’s stance that his affidavit is ‘neither supporting the petition nor opposing it’," Beer says.

He says most people reading that would be immediately incredulous, as it’s been quite obvious from the outset that this Government has taken a narrow view of who should host the Miss Pacific Pageant, and his affidavit continues with that same narrow view.

"His intrusion on this matter highlights a lack of intuition and smacks of an abuse of position, when clearly the pageant organisers in Samoa have already made their decision as to who have hosting rights."

Beer goes on to claim that the episode is just another blatant contradiction by the Prime Minister, when the statements attributed to Nick Henry confirm that Government was supporting one organisation over the other.

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