Cook Islands Public Servants A No Show For National Constitution Day Speech

Upset Minister wants to compel attendance; Public Service Commissioner dismisses move

By Losirene Lacanivalu 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, August 11, 2016) – Public servants cannot be compelled by any law to attend any national event even if it is Constitution Day.

That’s the word from Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas in response to deputy prime minister Teariki Heather’s national speech at the 51st Constitution Day celebrations at the National Auditorium last week.

In a move that has attracted widespread criticism on social media and in CI News, Heather said poor attendance at the celebrations by public servants was becoming common every year. It was important to get them to attend future Constitution Day celebrations to show their support to the nation, he added.

Heather said he planned to raise the issue in cabinet and the need for public servants to attend the national event would be “addressed.”

Poor attendance by public servants at official Constitution Day events could not be condoned, he said. 

However, Thomas said no public servant can be compelled by any law to attend the national event.

However, every public servant was encouraged to attend this very important event for the country, he said.

“But it is really up to the individual to choose to go or not to go.”

Thomas said the Constitution Day Celebration on August 4 was a statutory holiday held every year in recognition of the day when the Constitution (Supreme Act of the Cook Islands) came into force.

“The day confirms our self-government status in free association with New Zealand and we as Cook Islanders should be proud of our history,” Thomas said.

He said everyone should come together once a year to celebrate the country’s achievements and its unique identity as a nation.

The celebrations this year were attended by cabinet ministers, department heads, community groups and overseas dignitaries and their families.

Smoke signals sent to CI News in the days after the event included comments stating that the DPM didn’t “own” them. One smoke signaler said they might be public servants, but how one chose to celebrate the event was not the government’s business.

Heather’s stance also came in for a pasting from CI news columnist and lawyer Wilkie Rasmussen.

In Monday’s newspaper, Rasmussen said it was none of cabinet’s business whether or not a public servant attended the flag-raising ceremony.

Rasmussen claimed the deputy prime minister had a mindset of controlling people.

“Of course, we know he does this with his own workers. For instance, several lost their jobs when they did not vote for him in the 2014 elections.”

Cook Islands News
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