- Cook Islands
This was a year of birthdays in the Cook Islands.The nation's first political party, the Cook Islands Party (CIP), celebrated its fortieth birthday in March 2004. By October, the Girl Guides, the oldest uniformed women's organization, commemorated seventy-five years of activity since its arrival in the country. And the Baha'i faith, the earliest non-Christian denomination to come into the Cook Islands, celebrated its fiftieth birthday. Also in October, the Child Welfare Association commemorated seventy years of service. The year also saw the continuation of a worrying population decline, unpopular political party switches by members of Parliament, cabinet reshuffles, land controversies, immigration concerns, and apprehension about economic development. High-profile personalities dominated the media, influenCIN g election preparations, government actions, and policies. The dramas included convicted New Zealand business tycoon Mark Lyon; Ministry of Marine Resources Secretary Navy Epati; and Eddie Drollett, former chief of staff of the prime minister's department.
Efforts by Mark Lyon to seek sanctuary in Rarotonga attracted much attention, generating demands from the newly formed Concerned Citizens Group for an investigation, as well as expressions of unease from the two major political parties and trenchant media queries about the circumstances surrounding his residency. In an effort to win public sympathy, Lyon issued an open letter to the people of Rarotonga, declaring, "I came here for the first time in 2002 and fell under your spell. I have since moved my family here, in the hope of sanctuary from the lifestyle I wish to leave behind. Given my past, I do not expect you to embrace me nor to invite me into your daily lives. I can only hope that, given enough time, you may see that I have learned to live by your example. Like you I want my children to do better in life than Ihave done, not to repeat my mistakes" (CIN, 17 Dec 2003, 3). Some 100 unconvinced demonstrators marched in the capital,Avarua,openly opposing Lyon's effort to stay in the Cook Islands, but the fiasco continued when he was granted twelve-month residency and a suspected "$150,000 payout" was revealed. It was clear that the two major political parties did not support the government's actions in this regard: the Democratic Party condemned the government for granting Lyon the residency permit, and the Cook Islands Party demanded answers over related issues.
Rumors persisted that Lyon had given money to assist the Democratic Party in its reelection bid. This was never confirmed, but the local media did discover that Lyon had received $100,000 of his money back, minus [End Page 185] $50,000 that his lawyer, Norman George (also a member of Parliament), had reserved for legal coverage. Cook Islands Prime Minister Dr Robert Woonton's revelation that Lyon was one of several people interested in purchasing the on-again, off-again Vaima'anga (or Sheraton) hotel project only added to the debacle (CIN, 6 Dec 2003, 1). Amid all of this confusion, Lyon traveled to Mangaia on his "Miami Vice-style launch" and arrived unannounced, much to the annoyance of residents. He was asked to leave, but damage to his boat forced a two-week stay. To make peace with the Mangaia people, he donated a processor for the island's growers of noni fruit (Morinda citrifolia).However, such acts of "inspired" aid did not help Lyon's situation. After meeting with citizens concerned about Lyon's lifestyle and influence on others, and reviewing allegations of pornography, drug use, and assault, the prime minister finally withdrew his support and banned Lyon from reentering the country (CIN, 16 Jan 2004, 1). Only months after calling them wonderful and inspiring, Mark Lyon branded the people of the Cook Islands "boring as hell" (CIN, 12 Feb 2004, 1).
Lyon shared the media limelight with Navy Epati, head of the Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources, whose ownership of a fishing company generated suggestions of conflict of interest. Epati had a 70 percent stake in Te Maroro Fishing Company Ltd, a commercial fishing venture he had set up in May 2003 while head ofthe marine resources ministry. He...