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  • Cook Islands
  • Jon Tikivanotau M Jonassen (bio)

Continued political maneuvering, public budget mismanagement, and population decline dominated public discourse in the Cook Islands from July 2009 to June 2010. By June 2009, Cook Islands population had diminished to an estimated 13,200 (CIN, 4 Dec 2009), with around 70 percent of people living on the main island of Rarotonga. During the year, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key led a sixty-eight-member delegation to the Cook Islands that included two ministers, nine members of Parliament, three mayors, several business industry representatives, a hip-hop band, and sixteen media representatives (CIN, 9 July 2009).

While in Rarotonga, Prime Minister Key announced a NZ$1 million subsidy for the Air New Zealand flight from Los Angeles to Rarotonga (CIN, 10 July 2009). (NZ$1 is the equivalent of approximately US$0.73.) Key also confirmed his country's commitment to provide aid for the Pacific, although he expressed "a desire to change the emphasis from poverty alleviation to economic development" (CIN, 8 July 2009). The 2008-2009 New Zealand budget included a total aid package of around NZ$10 million for the Cook Islands, with AusAID providing NZ$1.7 million. Since 2004, New Zealand and Australia have combined their aid programs (CIN, 8 July 2009), with almost 40 percent now going to education and training. Key portrayed his visit to the Cook Islands as an effort to "reinforce the already close links New Zealand has with its Pacific neighbors" (CIN, 9 July 2009).

As the Cook Islands celebrated the arrival of Christianity 186 years ago (CIN, 28 July 2009), political cabinet shuffles and reshuffles, and realignments among members of Parliament (MPs) continued. Quests for political power often overflowed into public consciousness, and most residents reflected on it with much distaste. The constant strain on the government budget was of particular concern.

Financial secretary Sholan Ivaiti summarized the budget strain as competing interests chasing after limited government funds, but he identified the hosting of the Mini South Pacific Games as having the most pull on the budget (CIN, 1 July 2009). Mini games Minister Wilkie Rasmussen challenged Ivaiti's claim by issuing a statement that the government's funding of the mini games was expected to total no more than NZ$3.3 million (to cover accommodation, food, and sports equipment), with this amount "not putting a strain on the government's 2009/10 budget" (CIN, 2 July 2009). Rasmussen even suggested that the "financial secretary's insistence on drip-feeding funds to games organizers" [End Page 209] was actually creating further difficulties (CIN, 2 July 2009). However, there was a widespread notion that hosting the Pacific Mini Games would cost the Cook Islands closer to NZ$20 million (CIN, 7 Oct 2009).

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Sir Terepai Maoate joined the public debate on government finances, indicating that the government had contributed well over NZ$13 million toward infrastructure for the Pacific Mini Games—which future generations will pay for. Opposition spokesman for finance and Atiu MP Norman George described the budget inaccuracies coming from Ivaiti's office as "alarming" (CIN, 4 July 2009). When Maoate later described his 2009-2010 budget totaling NZ$215 million as "the mother of all budgets" (CIN, 25 July 2009), George countered by calling it the "mother of all mistakes" (CIN, 30 July 2009). The status of the budget was particularly disconcerting for average Cook Islanders given that total national revenue for the same period was projected at only NZ$96 million.

In July, Cabinet Minister and Penrhyn MP Wilkie Rasmussen admitted he was making plans to form a new government and was subsequently sacked by the prime minister (CIN, 25 July, 29 July 2009). Rasmussen responded by calling for Prime Minister Jim Marurai to resign. Titikaveka MP Robert Wigmore, who was rumored to have leaked the takeover attempt, was sworn in as the new minister in place of Rasmussen (CIN, 30 July 2009). Even though he was no longer in the cabinet, Rasmussen continued to publically comment on the national budget, declaring that "future loans by government would be unsustainable . . . for the next 20 plus years" (CIN, 4 Sept...


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pp. 209-215
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