Cook Islands Prime Minister Defends Heavy Travel Schedule

Skype is no substitute for 'pressing the flesh,' says Puna

By Richard Moore 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 4, 2017) – The Cook Islands needs to be conscious of our isolation and distance from everybody and realise we can’t do business with our friends by email or by Skype, says prime minister Henry Puna.

“You really have to press the flesh - that’s a reality - and I will continue to do so.”

Puna says his regular travel overseas is a very convenient attacking point for a lot of people out there.

“It started off as a political attack and now it is so simplistic that people now think it is true.”

He says the reason for his travels is to let people know of the Cook Islands.

“When I became prime minister we had no profile. No profile in the region, no profile on the international stage.

“The challenge was with all the projects we had in mind – like the solar project, how were we going to get assistance from our friends. Friends we had, but didn’t know if they were still friends, because we didn’t go out to them.

“We had to basically revive those friendships - that’s where the travel came in.”

Puna says that unfortunately for him, at the time he became prime minister climate change was the buzz phrase internationally.

“There were a lot of workshops and conferences all focused on climate change and - with the policies that we had doing something about the environment - it was a perfect fit. And people saw us as leaders in renewable energy conversion.

“They wanted to know how we came up with those policies.

“I got invited all around the world to speak to countries about the beginnings of our renewable energy policies. And later on as to how we were going to implement it.

“Even now countries and agencies around the world still invite me to travel and speak to them on where we are now and what the next step is.

“Most of my travel is to do with climate change and renewable energy and all the initiatives we have pioneered.”

And it didn’t help the look when it was the Cook Islands prime minister’s turn to take on the Chancellorship of the University of the South Pacific.

“It is a rotating role that every member country of the university has to take. It just so happens it was our turn during my time as PM.”

Puna says the criticism of his trips away used to irritate him but “not any more”.

“I just accept it as part of the job.”

He says people also need to understand he has a number of portfolios in his other roles as minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Tourism and Education.

“It is actually very demanding. I think people think travelling is easy, but that’s only if you are going on holiday.

“What people don’t realise is that you don’t get much rest when travelling for work. Most times you arrive there halfway around the world the night before a meeting and you have to adjust for the time difference.

“It is very difficult and the older you get the more difficult it is.”

But, he says, the position of prime minister carries a lot of status with the countries Cook Islands deals with.

“More often than not they invite the prime minister if they are hosting anything, unless it is very specialised.

“I always try to share the travel and there are some meetings I can delegate to ministers or one of the backbenchers.”

Cook Islands News
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