New Zealand Prime Minister Arrives In Cook Islands Bearing Gifts

English announces support for infrastructure projects; promises superannuation portability

By Richard Moore 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 14, 2017) – New Zealand’s prime minister spent yesterday on Rarotonga and he came armed with a bagful of gifts.

Bill English announced New Zealand support for a number of infrastructure projects as well as promising his government – if re-elected, would look at the issue of superannuation portability for Cook Islanders.

At a mid-morning press conference, English said New Zealand is committing $15 million [US$10.9 millin] to go towards the Manatua submarine cable that will connect Samoa, French Polynesia, Rarotonga and Aitutaki, giving those islands a faster internet service.

And it has also signed an $8.8 million [US$6.4 million] funding agreement for the design of a new reticulated wastewater system for Avana and Muri.

“Well managed, modern wastewater services are important for public health and to protect precious lagoon environments,” he said.

“Both internet connectivity and clean, safe water are also vital for the Cook Islands tourism industry.”

When asked by the CI News about what New Zealand could do to help stop the depopulation of the Cook Islands, English said it was a long-standing issue but things were being done to reverse the flow of people to New Zealand and Australia.

[PIR editor's note: On June 14, 2017 Matangi Tonga reported that 'The New Zealand Prime Minister Rt Hon Bill English will visit Tonga for the first time on June 15-17, during his 2017 Pacific Mission tour. ... Prime Minister Hon ‘Akilisi Pohiva will host him and they are expected to make a joint media statement on Friday, June 16.']

“What we can do is the things that are now being done and one or two issues that the government has raised with us.”

He said the combination of much more sensible support in the past 10 years from aid partners and focusing on sustained, long-term infrastructure appear to be having a positive impact.

The infrastructure work included sustainable energy, water and wastewater, as well as boosting education infrastructure.

On top of that, the New Zealand PM said, “strong governance here delivers on the projects”.

He said the CI government had a longer view about what needs to be achieved and has been “essentially lining the rest of us up with the priorities of the government, rather than the other way around”.

“That appears to be having some positive impacts.”

English said prime minister Henry Puna’s government had raised some other issues yesterday and one of those was details about how pension portability works and the requirement to spend five years in New Zealand later on in life to qualify.

 “That is something we are willing to look at. We made decisions on pension portability four or five years ago and they didn’t have quite as big an impact as we might have expected, which means we have a bit of confidence about further changes if we can come to that - and if we are re-elected in September.

“Then, as part of executing undertakings we have already made on the eligibility for national super, we will take into account this request from the CI government.”

The New Zealand prime minister said: “So I think as long as we have a common sense of purpose and continue down the track we are on, then you might see some longer term shifts (on de-population).

“It’s great to hear in the discussions today that there are some things that sound small but they make a difference.

“I know about this because I represented a part of New Zealand, the far south, which would regard itself as having similar issues regarding depopulation.

“The fact that you can now train your own nurses here.

“The young people (at Tereora College) I saw today who can now do more of their tertiary education here rather than have to leave. 

“And with the connectivity coming - that is going to make it quite feasible to do further training that is required here.

“All these things start adding add up and I think it is great to see a feeling of confidence and direction here that makes it easy for us to work alongside each other.”

English began yesterday with a breakfast meeting with Puna, Finance minister Mark Brown and New Zealand Foreign Affairs minister Gerry Brownlee.

His party then went with Brown to Tereora College to see the progress on the upgrading work, which has been financed by New Zealand.

After a lunch with the Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters at Tamarind House, English was given a traditional welcome at Atupare Marae before becoming involved with a Just Play session at Victoria Park, Tupapa.

Yesterday evening he went to a function at the Dome National Auditorium.

The New Zealand prime minister and his delegation were due to leave Rarotonga early this morning.       

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