Cook Islands PM’s Frequent Travel Comes Under Fire

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

Cook Islands PM’s Frequent Travel Comes Under Fire Puna’s spokesman: Criticism ‘personal, individualistic bellyaches’

By Florence Syme-Buchanan

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Jan. 4, 2016) – A roving prime minister with an apparent yearning for his own jet, two brothers and a newspaper have proven good fodder for a battle of words…Pitt against Pitt.

An article by Herald writer George Pitt about a so-called craving prime minister Henry Puna has developed from his frequent travels to have his own private jet has gotten younger brother and PM press secretary Trevor Pitt bashing back describing the elders’ writings as ‘fantastical meandering’; and of ‘Star Wars’ proportions’.

"The slurs know no bounds", writes Pitt of elder Pitts’ recent article.

"With no news to speak of, the Herald toes the line of innuendo and gossip just for the sake of pushing personal agendas".

Trevor Pitt isn’t happy that Puna ‘is yet again the target of every conceivable smear, along with anyone associated with the country’s leadership, or even family. None of the Herald’s slurs are based on fact. All stem from personal and individualistic bellyaches’.

Puna comes under constant fire from George Pitt for his frequent travelling, a fact that hasn’t escaped public attention over the years.

Since early November Cook Islands News has been awaiting the PM’s travel information from Parliament that will show how many trips he took in 2015 and how long he was out of the country. Clerk of Parliament John Tangi recently gave assurances this week that this information would be forthcoming.

According to Trevor Pitt because Puna is also Foreign Affairs minister, he ‘has a yearly calendar of international obligations – none of which are new for a leader’.

"The standard travel requirements demanded of the country’s leader have been in place for decades".

However, it is generally accepted that Henry Puna travels more frequently than any other prime minister in the history of Cook Islands self-governance. Collating all his travel details since assuming office in 2011 would show tens of thousands of dollars spent and tens of thousands of miles flown in all directions of the globe.

But Pitt maintains that as well as the country’s obligations overseas, ‘the leadership has a strong national development agenda whereby the principles of energy conversion to renewable, the sustainability of the ocean’s resources, and conservation management, are widely promoted’.

The comment has often been made in Cook Islands News over the irony that while promoting renewable energy the prime minister is happy to clock up thousands of miles flying on jets that consume jet fuel and crisscross the atmosphere with contrails.

Pitt stated the result of the PM’s ‘broad promotion’ of the Cook Islands in these areas there has been expansion in domestic business expansion and new government-to-government partnerships’. "The net result is new and additional financial and technical assistance to the country where none had been previously available, or attained". He did not give any details of the achievements that have apparently been made by the PM from for the country from his many overseas trips.

The press secretary goes on about how Puna’s ‘overseas participation in meetings and conferences are grounded in a diplomacy that has reaped benefits, and continues to attract international attention’.

It is in the final paragraph of the press release that Pitt makes reference to the alleged hankering for jet by Puna saying ‘there are no agendas

political or personal – to feather the PM’s travel comforts’. He comments that such ‘ridiculously-laid plans that would require extensive transparent scrutiny anyway’. Trevor Pitt takes a swipe at his older brother saying the Herald ‘remains in dire need of credible news-reporting’.

George Pitt is high amused that his story has raised comment from the Office of the prime minister which is not in the habit of issuing regular press releases. And he gloats that the response to his article means a copy of the Herald has been purchased and read by the Office of the prime minister.

In an emailed statement elder Pitt says "It’s good to see our unpopular PM reads the without fear or favour CI Herald".

"Of course he will deny the story because the ‘no secret government’ simply can’t keep secrets’.

George Pitt reckons his article has put an end to the PM’s ‘secret dream of flying in his tax funded corporate jet’.

Pitt makes the claim that news of the jet plan was leaked by one of Puna’s own political favourites. In reference to the political favourite, Pitt says Puna should be rebutting him, ‘not the Herald’.

"Looks like all those who have been promised VIP excursions in Puna One have been duped".

"A sovereign leader by the wishes of 78 Manihikians, Puna has become addicted to the jet setting high life enjoyed by the rich and famous" wrote George Pitt. He claimed having a prime ministerial jet was a distinct possibility for Puna and that Canadian mining company Endeavour ‘have been sussed out’ about a swap package – a plane for an exploratory deep sea mining license.

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