Former Cook Islands Democratic Party Leader Slams Prime Minister

Commentary

By Wilkie Rasmussen

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 8, 2017) – Surely this must not go unchallenged.

Prime minister Henry Puna recently declared unashamedly to the public, that the Cook Islands had no international profile before he came along.

He said this when pressed about his frequent, or in my opinion, incessant travel overseas.

So, let’s see whether he is right. Earlier there were other people who did some strutting on the world stage. And it was well before Henry Puna rode in on his white horse.

When he visited China back in the early 2000s, PM Robert Woonton was given the red carpet treatment, had a guard of honour and was given full Head of State treatment.

Iaveta Short, as Cook Islands High Commissioner to New Zealand, signed the One China Policy.

Former prime minister Sir Terepai Maoate and former QR Sir Fred Goodwin were knighted by the Queen and dined at Buckingham Palace. Wilkie Rasmussen (yours truly) as Minister of Foreign Affairs was co-president/chairman of the European Union (EU) and Africa/Caribbean/Pacific (ACP) Parliament for two years and traversed Europe and ACP countries (not at our expense), to fly the flag of the Cook Islands. Yours truly brought several EU/ACP key meetings to the Cook Islands.

A number of former Cook Islands High Commissioners to New Zealand signed diplomatic relations with a number of countries including France, Spain, Mexico, Chile etc and efforts to sign up Japan started way before Henry Puna trotted along.

Japan did not recognise the sovereignty of the Cook Islands. It does now, but people other than Henry Puna were there, “pressing flesh” and “strutting”. Several years before Henry Puna became PM, the biggest number of diplomats ever to visit the Cook Islands came to join with us our Constitution Celebrations. They included even the US ambassador for the first time ever, despite the US not recognising our sovereignty. I won’t say who the Cook Islands High Commissioner in Wellington was at the time, but you can ask Audrey Brown, then the First Secretary, who is also a poet. She is now living in Samoa with her family.

Speaking of sovereignty, New Zealand relented, not to Henry Puna but to others. Yours truly led a delegation that included Iaveta Short and Mike Mitchell to the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs to negotiate the “independence of the Cook Islands to deal with its own foreign issues”.

This was also seen as our former colonial power New Zealand acknowledging that the Cook Islands was now grazing in a different paddock from New Zealand and will not be moving back into the old paddock. Sir Terepai Maoate and Iaveta Short went to Italy to have the Italians write off the Sheraton loan. I’m sure the records at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will attest to the truth.

It’s a daring claim by the PM, but to me it seems false and superficial. My theory is that Henry Puna, by being minister for “everything” is now showing signs of the “me, myself and I disease”. Or has he caught the ailment of, “you people cannot do things right or survive without me”.

It is a frightening thing for Cook Islanders when we have politicians with no faith in anyone except themselves and they think they are the most capable people around. In other words, others are incapable. Therefore, the PM’s fellow Cabinet ministers are incapable. Perhaps to him they don’t quite speak the “Queen’s English” or are not of very good attire and manner or maybe they are not quite as good a specimen of Cook Islands manhood as he is

That is essentially what the PM is saying: “I am the embodiment of the perfect promoter of the Cook Islands” (not his quote but mine). I believe he needs to retract what he said and pay his respects to those before him who also pressed the flesh and promoted our dear country on many fronts.

People at overseas meetings have told me openly that our country fights well above its weight. I certainly never shied away from tussles with bigger countries when I was at the table. That says it all of how successful our international “rapporteurs” have been.

Perhaps the bottom line of what PM is saying was that he brought in the most money from his travels. There was funding for the solar power projects, which I thought that was pooled money contributed by countries sympathetic to our energy supply predicament, but I can’t think of anything else except funds from the Chinese and New Zealand for roadwork and waterworks on Rarotonga. However, wasn’t that coupled to a huge loan that could be hard for us to pay? Then of course there are the Chinese gifts of machinery. As I write this, some of these machines have already broken down and no parts are available to repair them.

What about the European Union funding for the Pukapuka Cyclone Centre? That was granted before Henry Puna’s time and we do not have to pay it back. What about funding for the Penrhyn hospital and school? That was before his time. Funding for the outer islands harbour projects? That was also before his time.

What about European Union funding for the sewage improvements in Ngatangiia? Again, before his time. What about Chinese funding for the Ministry of Justice, the Police building – that was also before his time. And funding for the Bluesky Arena building in Nikao? That was also before his time.

All I’m trying to do here is to put matters into context.

I don’t personally agree with the “begging” persona our country has cultivated and is still doing, but it is wrong of the PM to make such claims. And in the time I was in parliament, we certainly did not have to travel as much as he does. 

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