Cook Islands PM Sees 'Exciting Times' For Regional Telecommuncations Cooperation

Henry Puna, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, April 11, 2017) – These are exciting times that demonstrate that the Pacific has come of age in harnessing the opportunities provided by telecommunications.

Those were in fact my opening remarks at the Breakout session for governments at the 21st Pacific Telecommunications Association Annual General Meeting in Rarotonga last Tuesday.

Connectivity is something we as Pacific people established for centuries and at all strata across society. We have bridged gaps where we found them, built communities where there was nothing and sailed such large expanses of ocean when necessary. When encountering our communities in the 17th century, European explorers could not fathom as to how we had achieved this.

Pacific ingenuity and necessity have gone hand in hand and have been the backbone of why we did what we did and arrived at the answers as to “how”. Where others saw a barrier, we saw a highway. Where others saw an expanse of immeasurably blue ocean, we saw possibility.

These qualities are apparent in our DNA and just as apparent in what we as Pacific people have been able to achieve, especially in the evolving telecommunications space. Where others saw isolation we saw connectivity and where some saw insurmountable hurdles we saw opportunity to connect. If our tupuna could muster such fervent qualities in days past, then for us to awaken these same qualities is a possibility we cannot afford to let linger.

We have certainly not lingered when faced with 21st century obstacles. For some,  these obstacles might have seemed insurmountable and vast as we considered questions about how we could connect ourselves to the wider global world. There were questions around how we could build it and what it would mean for us to be fibre optically-connected to the wider world and all that it has to offer.

What is evident - and especially in the light of all the troubles in the recent US elections, cyber security and being able to manage what comes in via the internet, for example, is as much an issue as to how and where we store sensitive information. Your information.

Our ocean expanse has protected us as well as keeping us from the wider world. These cables coming into our countries will drastically change the way we live life, do business and communicate with each other.

Look at our already small steps and the changes that have been made even in the past 10 years with the introduction of o3b and a 4G networks. These have transported us towards our global neighbours and the speed by which they, too, transact life. What is clear is that none of this would be possible without linking with our Pacific nation partners, with New Zealand and organisations like the Asian Development Bank.

 It is a stark reality that we must at times look to each other and those outside of ourselves for support (these are the realities we as your government must consider), though I doubt any of our critics will be complaining when their internet comes at high speed and at a reasonable price, their water becomes drinkable from the tap, or their children attend one of the finest high schools in the Pacific. We do not beg because we do not need to. That has never been our style. Our diplomatic relationships are such that a simple request based on mutual friendship is often all we need. In many cases, such as this, the initiative has come from our partners.

I want to acknowledge the tremendous support of New Zealand in gifting us NZ$15 million to go towards our shareholding costs in the Manatua Cable Consortium. It is a tangible manifestation of New Zealand’s commitment at the 2015 Pacific Leaders Forum in PNG of improving Pacific connectivity as well as adding a special milestone in our special bilateral relations.

Our Samoan neighbours have called the Manatua Cable Project a historic and tangible example of Polynesian cooperation.  For French Polynesia, it is a strengthening of our already strong cultural links.  Niue is convinced that it will empower social and economic development, while for Tokelau it will ensure they overcome the challenges of remoteness and isolation. And not forgetting our friends in Tuvalu, who declared that effective, user-friendly, reliable, affordable and secure telecommunications were key components for the development of their nine low-lying atolls.

What should be vividly clear to us all, is that we are on the cusp of one of the greatest milestones the Pacific has ever seen - perhaps since our great migration throughout eastern Polynesia. Faced with the insurmountable, we link hands again and overcome the insurmountable. Isolated by great expanses of ocean, we link resources to nullify this expanse and show once again, and to the rest of the world, what can be done when Pacific people join together.

As Pacific people it is our inheritance and a part of who we are, to come together as one people, in one vaka, and sail our countries and our communities into a future that is connected and productive like never before.

Before I conlude, may I take the time to wish you all a blessed Easter. May it be a time of rest and reflection with your loved ones as we reflect on the divine sacrifice Jesus made for us all.

Aere ki Mua.

Henry Puna
Prime Minister

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