- Cook Islands
Reviews of American Sāmoa, Hawai'i, Sāmoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Wallis and Futuna are not included in this issue.
This review covers the two-year period from July 2016 to June 2018 and tracks a range of ongoing and emerging concerns. Featured here are the implications from the 2016 population census, Marae Moana (the national marine park), the Cook Islands' impending Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (oecd) graduation to high-income country status, a controversial local tax amnesty, and events connected with the 2018 general election.
2016 saw the five-year national population survey get underway. Preliminary results of the 2016 census, which was held on 1 December, recorded a total population of 17,459 (mfem 2018c). Including residents and nonresidents (mostly tourists), the count shows a 2 percent decrease from the 2011 census (mfem 2018c). However, official reporting on population trends was delayed, as technical problems with equipment meant that the data had to be sent to New Zealand for compilation. Nevertheless, it is expected that the census data will show a further population drop, especially on the Pa 'enua (outer islands), where development economist Vaine Wichman pointed out that island leaders and public health workers "have a fairly good handle on the ebb and inflow of people to the islands" (cin, 1 June 2017), so are able to anticipate changes and demands for services and resources. However, eighteen months on, the official details of people's mobility in and out of the country, economic activity, housing, and well-being are still not available. On the face of it, it would seem that timely and informed public policymaking, planning, and service provisions will be impacted. But to some extent this is not necessarily a bad thing, because population-related policies need to be informed by more than just demographic trends, which invariably can be used to support the taken-for-granted arguments typically associated with the vulnerabilities and questionable viability of small island state development and economies (Baldacchino and Bertram 2009).
Depopulation is a national concern and a political football (cin, 31 May 2018), especially given its implications for the country's labor force and its ability to support the tourism industry. However, it is important to also take account of the cultural and social imperatives that play a part in people's mobility, aspirations, and experiences, which may help deepen understandings when interpreting population patterns and trends. For example, the cost of living and the ability to earn a living wage were the main concerns of the 2018 Minimum Wage Rate Review Report (Government of the Cook Islands 2018). The review panel agreed that the Cook Islands Census [End Page 187] 2016 and 2016 Household Income Expenditure Survey would serve as the analytical basis for setting the minimum wage, along with a labor market assessment. However, in the absence of these major data sets, the panel concentrated on reviewing any major changes since the previous report in 2017. The review panel considered that "the main employers of minimum wage employees were the public sector, small businesses and the few businesses in the Pa Enua" (Government of the Cook Islands 2018, 3). As such, island administrations were likely to respond to an increase in minimum wage by reducing the work hours of minimum wage staff, assuming that there was no increase in the Pa 'enua funding model to help meet the new rate (Government of the Cook Islands 2018, 4). So while their take home pay would not change, workers would have more time for other activities, including subsistence farming and fishing. Regardless, the cost of living remains relatively high due to the country's small population, the reliance on imports to meet local consumption needs, and the distances that imported goods must travel, causing transport costs to affect the price of goods (Government of the Cook Islands 2018, 7).
Another aspect of the Cook Islands population to consider is the increasing number of tourists to the Cook Islands. The environmental and social sustainability of the country is now being put to the test with record high numbers of tourists reaching over 150,000 in 2017 (rnz 2017a). Titikaveka Member...