Cooks PM Agrees To Committee To Review Fishing Deal

Opposition pushed Puna to reexamine EU purse seine arrangement

By Florence Syme-Buchanan

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 18, 2016) – Prime Minister Henry Puna has agreed to opposition coalition calls for a select committee to be set up to examine the anti-purse seining petition and related issues.

Opposition coalition leader Teina Bishop and deputy leader and marine resources spokesman Tamaiva Tuavera say the importance of having a select committee address the petition was impressed upon Puna.

The opposition has been pressuring government for a select committee since the PM’s trip north with four Cook Islands Party MPs to promote the controversial European Union purse seining agreement.

The value and integrity of the petition signed by 4100 Cook Islanders, over half the voting population, was questioned by the government during the northern trip.

This led to Bishop and opposition Tuavera and fellow MP James Beer becoming more vocal about the need to have a select committee to protect democracy.

Bishop appointed his select committee team several weeks ago: Tuavera and former leader William Heather will sit with him. But the opposition is keeping the team’s composition flexible, saying it could change.

Meanwhile, the prime minister has said discussions with the opposition coalition have been very positive.

Puna’s press officer Trevor Pitt said there had been agreement that some efforts were required to take the emotion out of the fisheries arguments.

He repeated his earlier claims that the purse seining debate had been clouded somewhat by arguments of no evidential backing.

“So more clarity is needed to assist rational discussion.”

Regional fisheries experts are likely to be called in for advice by the select committee. These will most likely include the Forum Fisheries Agency.

Exactly what the select committee’s terms of reference will be aren’t known yet, or even who will determine what these are.

Opposition office chief executive George Turia says he understands government will seek legal and external advice on the drafting of the terms of reference, with input from the opposition.

Turia is confident the opposition will present a prepared and informed team, saying as a former marine resources minister, Bishop is “well versed in the principles and merits of the purse seining issue.”

Bishop was also involved as Marine Resources minister in discussions with the European Union at the initial stages of dialogue on the EU fisheries agreement. That agreement was rejected by Bishop in 2012. It has since been resurrected by the current government.

Turia says the other two Opposition MPs on the select committee while “peripheral observers,” are familiar with the basic issues.

The select committee will be set up at the next session of parliament, scheduled to resume on June 7.

Select committees are formed by parliament to address and examine in detail particular issues - in this instance, anti-purse seining petition and related issues. It is not clear at this stage whether the committee will also examine the EU- Cook Islands purse seining agreement.

The public will have the opportunity to address the committee to provide information and views.

Bishop said earlier this year that the select committee process was one where issues were taken back to the people.

“It gives people the opportunity to air their views, for the committee to get expert opinion and enhances democracy.”

Cook Islands News
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