Cook Islands Opposition Calls Lack Of Mooring Fees ‘Favoritism’

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

Vessel owned by Investment Board chairman treated differently

By Florence Syme-Buchanan

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Jan. 25, 2016) – The Democratic opposition believes the position of the Ports Authority has been seriously compromised by the "deliberate favouritism" shown by the government agency’s chief executive.

Ports Authority chief executive Nooroa Bim Tou has permitted the Tiare Taporo, owned by Pacific Schooners Ltd, to moor at Avatiu wharf free of charge for the past 75 days.

Every other vessel has had to pay mooring fees until granted a domestic shipping license.

Once this happens the fees are waived as part of government’s contribution to the local inter-island shipping industry.

Opposition MP Tama Tuavera says he wants the public to be told why the Ports Authority head is applying different sets of rules to different ship owners.

He points to minority PSL shareholder Mike Henry being the chairman of the Cook Islands Investment Corporation board – which owns and manages all state assets through various SOE boards, including the Ports Authority – and asks if Tou’s decisions have been influenced by this.

"Everybody also knows Mike’s political affiliations and his close connections to the government, he also sits on at least four SOE boards."

Tuavera says while he fully supports the domestic shipping industry and knows it is critical to the development of the outer islands, he says the favouritism that PSL has been granted from the very outset by government "isn’t on" and hasn’t created an even playing field in the local shipping industry.

"Taio Shipping owner Tapi Taio is understandably not happy with how he has been treated in the past by the current CIP government and how PSL is being treated. It’s blatantly unfair," Tuavera says

He says until such time PSL is granted a domestic shipping license it should be paying fees like every other company has had to.

Asked why there appears to be one rule for one company by being exempted from mooring fees, and another rule for another company which is charged mooring fees, Tou responded that the Ports Authority "has only one set of rules instead of what you are implying."

He had earlier told Cook Islands News that PSL was not being charged a fee in anticipation of the company getting a domestic shipping license.

By contrast, new Taio Shipping vessels have been charged mooring fees on arrival in Rarotonga at Avatiu wharf up until the company acquired a local shipping license for each vessel.

Exemptions have only occurred when Taio vessel Lady Moana was required to take urgent supplies of fuel to the outer islands and much needed supplies to the northern islands on four occasions.

Taio Shipping paid the Ports Authority $31,000 in 2013 for Lady Moana berthing fees.

Had Ports Authority charged PSL the same way, the company would be looking at a bill of $15,592.50.

Contrary to claims made recently in Cook Islands News, PSL is not half-owned by locals.

It is registered at the Justice Department companies office as 1750 shares being owned by local directors Garth Broadhead and Mike Henry.

The other 2250 shares are owned by Canadian Daniel Moreland and Canadian company McLaughlin Holdings Ltd.

The company is registered as a foreign-owned enterprise with the Business Trade and Investment Board – 63 per cent owned by 14 people living overseas. The 15th shareholder is permanent resident Nan Hauser.

Tuavera says he doesn’t accept the explanations given by Tou: "Tapi was charged from day one. There were only brief exceptions made when the Lady Moana was given a special licence so she could make emergency trips to the outer islands to take supplies that our people really needed."

"Even with the special licence which would have demonstrated to any other person except Bim Tou that the company would be getting a full domestic shipping licence, he didn’t see this special licence as being in anticipation at all, so he’s clearly applied a different sets of rules.

"One lot of rules for a locally-owned company, and another set of rules for a foreign-owned company.

"To the rest of the country, this is really unfair".

Tuavera believes Taio Shipping could have grounds for legal redress and should pursue this to have the $31,000 it spent on 2013 mooring fees for one vessel reimbursed by the Ports Authority.

"I really believe that the Ports Authority chief executive has compromised this government agency and there should be an investigation into this entire matter by the Public Expenditure Review Committee.

"It’s in the public interest to know why the chief executive has different rules and the Cook Islands Investment Corporation Board should also be looking at this matter with the chairman Mike Henry stepping aside to let them investigate this fully without his influence."

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