It has been business as usual within Niue's governance and politics, with surprising events unfolding every now and then, providing exciting political items to discuss. Within this review period, we've seen Niue's application for membership in the Asian Development Bank (adb) accepted; an apology from Radio New Zealand (rnz) for unsubstantiated allegations made against Premier Sir Toke Talagi; opposition to and court injunctions filed against government-funded projects; and a member of Parliament (mp) who brought a packet of marijuana into an assembly sitting. Throughout this period, the premier also spent significant time in New Zealand for medical care. Despite ill health, the premier was said to have still undertaken work and carried out talks with prospective diplomatic and development partners.
Niue's application to become a member of the adb was accepted, which was a historical decision for the island, as it had unsuccessfully applied twice before (bcn, 12 March 2019). This membership is also significant because it provides the island, the adb's sixty-eighth member and the forty-ninth from the Asia-Pacific region, with an additional avenue of funding to help drive social and economic development (bcn, 12 March 2019).
It will be interesting to see just how the us$100,000 annual membership fee, which is quite high for a small state, will be fronted. The full cost and benefits of the membership will be determined in the long run; however, Niue will greatly benefit from the associated financial and technical assistance, including assistance with infrastructure development, financial management of the public sector and its projects, and capacity building. A focus on building the management capacity of Niue would be an especially valuable use of this [End Page 249] adb membership, as, going forward, donors and partners will come and go, but it would be most effective for Niue to learn how to manage its own affairs with all stakeholders. The Asian Development Bank Membership Act 2018 was passed by the Niue Assembly, with the cabinet authorized on behalf of Niue to carry out a number of responsibilities, including the borrowing, acquisition, and repayment of funds on behalf of Niue and the issuing of directives necessary to satisfy its obligations to the adb (Government of Niue 2018). A degree of comfort and reassurance was felt as the premier noted that the government will not be rushing to borrow funds and will only seek assistance if needed (bcn, 14 March 2019).
In November 2018, Radio New Zealand published an article alleging that the New Zealand government, specifically the Office of the Auditor-General, was investigating the Niue premier's shareholdings within Niue's state-owned enterprises; this article has since been taken down. Questions and allegations were first raised by opposition mp and former High Commissioner to New Zealand O'Love Jacobsen, who allegedly accused the premier of being the sole shareholder of state-owned enterprises in Niue. This was driven in part by the fact that the mp had received no answers in Parliament regarding the delay in a number of state-owned enterprises' budgets being presented to Parliament for scrutiny (bcn, 13 Dec 2018). The opposition mp had allegedly asked numerous times in the assembly why the budgets were late but never received a satisfactory answer. Jacobsen then raised her concerns with Radio New Zealand. Later it was revealed that in fact none of this was true and that there was no investigation being undertaken. The premier received an apology from Radio New Zealand for the errors in their reporting (rnz 2018a).
Further pushing the premier into the media spotlight, there was controversy around a letter that was sent by New Zealand's auditor-general to the premier with regard to Niue's "unexplained revenue shortfalls" and "budget blowout" (Smith 2018). It was alleged that these concerns emerged from an audit of 2015 records, in which there were financial discrepancies with a shortfall of nz$820,000 and a budget blowout of nz$1.2 million (nz$1 million = us$630,332). The auditor-general made recommendations for Niue to commit extra resources to its tax office as a preventive measure and for greater accountability. The premier...