- Polynesia in Review:Issues and Events, 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014
Reviews of American Sāmoa, Hawai‘i, Niue, Sāmoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Wallis and Futuna are not included in this issue.
As the 49th year of Cook Islands “self-governing” in free association with New Zealand, the period under review has been characterized by a number of political ups and downs, culminating in a snap election with contested results and court action set to determine the outcome. The results highlight the need for reform to address the disparity of the value of a vote across the country. As 2014 is also the International Year of Small Islands Developing States, international and local attention is focused on the country’s development partnerships as it prepares to celebrate its unique form of sovereignty in 2015. Other issues this year revolved around a rollout of tax reforms, marine resources, and the management of the climate change–related drought in the southern group islands.
The Cook Islands continues to place priority on climate change and climate-related disaster risks, with a number of southern group islands “dealing with drought-like conditions after months without decent rainfall” (cin, 16 Dec 2013). On Atiu, groundwater supplies were at critically low levels. These problems were further compounded with increased demands expected over the Christmas period and the drought conditions forecast to extend the dry season (cin, 16 Dec 2013). With two water treatment plants and a desalination machine dispatched from Rarotonga, the New Zealand High Commission added its support by supplying one of the solar-powered water-treatment plants as part of a nz$225,000 grant to support the Cook Islands drought response strategy. The strategy includes equipment, training, awareness raising, and water level monitoring and reporting (cin, 31 Jan 2014). On a much larger scale, the nz$60 million Cook Islands Water Partnership, or Te Mato Vai, linked to climate change, is intended to improve water supply and quality on Rarotonga. The initiative will refurbish water intakes, increase water storage and treatment, and replace ring mains and piping (cin, 19 Oct 2013). Funding for the project has been raised, with nz$22 million from the Cook Islands government, a nz$15 million grant from New Zealand, and a nz$23 million concessional loan from the People’s Republic of China. This jointly funded partnership has drawn international attention and is “believed to be a first for the emerging Asian country which has traditionally been known to deliver aid unilaterally” (cin, 12 Sept 2013). Visiting researcher Philippa Brant of the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Australia suggested that because the Pacific faced no current military conflict, the Cook Islands was ideal for Beijing [End Page 251] to test out its new aid strategy while avoiding accusations of self-interest by allowing the Cook Islands and New Zealand to drive the project (cin, 12 Sept 2013). Locally the project also drew attention through public meetings and consultations on the Water Master Plan. With construction due to start on 14 April 2014, a petition with over two thousand signatures was delivered to Parliament seeking to put a stop to the project “until misgivings and shortcomings on the project can be identified and investigated and other options explored,” said James Thomson, spokesman for the Te Mato Vai Petition Committee (cin, 5 April 2014). It was agreed that a Parliamentary Select Committee would be established; however, the project still proceeded.
Since the 2011 establishment of the Climate Change Division in the Office of the Prime Minister, a number of initiatives have commenced. A us$5 million Adaptation Fund project facilitated the development of a national climate-change policy. In November 2013, the Kaveinga Tapapa: Climate and Disaster Compatible Development Policy 2013–2016 was launched. In taking an integrated approach, the policy is focused on low-carbon, climate-change–and disaster-resilient development. Prime Minister Henry Puna’s introductory statement notes that the policy, by integrating with existing policy instruments and planning tools, “builds on our existing structures and draws on our capability to lift our game” and its “fundamental message is to prepare today for tomorrow...