Cook Islands Financial Secretary Steps Down

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

Neves lauded for reforms, budget transparency

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Dec. 15, 2015) – A controversial figure with a trademark grin, Financial Secretary Richard Neves will be remembered for making a significant impact on the Cook Islands’ financial and economic systems.

Today Neves steps down from his posting at the helm of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management which he has held over the past four and a half years, through good times and bad.

"Every day is a good day, there’s not a day I wake up and don’t want to go to work," said Neves reflecting on his time in Rarotonga.

Going about his work with a relaxed attitude, Neves has helped the Cook Islands government make significant changes over the past few years, including revamping the tax system and improving the management of infrastructure.

A government press release issued earlier in the year said Neves had led the inclusion of the departure tax into airline tickets, implementation of government tax reforms reducing PAYE and increasing VAT rates.

He has also improved the transparency of budget documentation and reporting on government finances and had introduced a more efficient centralised payroll system and centralised government information technology network, the statement said.

These changes had resulted in favourable external reviews of the country’s public financial management systems and Neves had also led work on enabling online lodgement of tax returns.

Quoting the saying that hindsight has 20/20 vision, Neves admitted there were some things his Ministry could have handled better.

Back-taxing and then taxing pensioners were among those things, he said.

"It was a hard message to sell, but now that we’ve got everyone in the (tax) net, taxes can be reduced.

"For example there will be a tax cut on January 1 next year and January 1 the following year."

Neves said communication with the community on various issues needed to be strengthened, but he was proud of the MFEM website and especially his staff.

"I’d like to make a special mention of the terrific staff at MFEM, who have made a great effort and tackled a lot of changes."

The future of the Cook Islands economy looked good, said Neves, and growth would continue to centre around providing services for tourism and the local population.

He said although agricultural growth would provide a boost, it would not provide the employment opportunities Cook Islanders are looking for.

Neves will return to Canberra with his wife and two children – who return to Australia as barefoot Cook Islanders and All Blacks fans.

Neves said he has some consultancy work to do first, before the family of four decide on their next move.

Garth Henderson will officially take over as Financial Secretary from tomorrow. Henderson is a former manager within MFEM overseeing the Development Co-ordination Division, formerly known as the Aid Management Division, for almost six years before being appointed acting Financial Secretary in October 2010.

He was acting Financial Secretary for six months before taking up an advisory post with the Asian Development Bank in March 2011.

Henderson, who returned to work in the Cook Islands last year has a sustainable social and economic development focus, including strong leadership and discipline from his former experience working for the Cook Islands Police.

He has a background in Management and Marine Affairs and was an exemplary MBA student with the University of the South Pacific. He also has a Post Graduate Diploma in International Affairs.

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