The Contemporary Pacific 14.1 (2002) 213-219
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Polynesia in Review:
Issues and Events, 1 July 2000 to 30 June 2001
Karin Von Strokirch
School of Social Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW
Familiar themes are revisited in the year under review. The Tahitian government proceeded with costly public works that are arguably out of proportion to the small territory's means and needs. While critics may view these as pork-barrel projects in anticipation of the forthcoming elections, they have long been a feature of a territorial economy driven by public expenditure. President Gaston Flosse was once again subject to, but for the time being survived, new and continuing investigations into his alleged involvement in corruption. Notwithstanding the bad public relations generated by corruption charges coupled with a law redistributing seats in favor of the urban constituencies, the Tahoeraa party's cast-iron grip on power was confirmed in both municipal and territorial elections. Emboldened by his party's unprecedented victory at the polls, President Flosse continued to chafe at the limits imposed on his power by the French state.
Public works have been a motor of growth, especially since France has provided funds to facilitate a post-nuclear testing conversion of the territorial economy. This year was no exception. A major new development is the construction of a territorial hospital center at Taaone to replace the aging facility at Mamao. It will include a general hospital, psychiatric ward, blood transfusion center, and accommodations for families. First flagged in 1996 at an estimated cost of FCFP 10 billion, it was not until July 2000 that a company was chosen to build the hospital at a revised cost of FCFP 22 billion. By October the budget had grown to FCFP 32 billion (FR 1.76 billion). President Flosse then asked the minister for Overseas France, Christian Paul, for a financial contribution of 65 percent from the state. Paul agreed, but on the condition the territory demonstrate the means to maintain a hospital of this size.
The French state was not alone in voicing concerns. An opposition leader, Boris Léontieff, considered the cost exorbitant for a small territory, especially compared to the mere FCFP 5 billion required to renovate the existing hospital. Léontieff cited a French specialist who estimated the normal cost for a hospital of this kind would be at most FCFP 18 billion. Moreover, maintenance costs would be in the order of 10 percent of the capital outlay, which in the case of the territory's proposal would be 3 billion per year. Léontieff believed that not only the initial outlay but also the maintenance costs would exceed the territory's financial means. The other opposition leader, Oscar Temaru, decried the hospital initiative as a public relations stunt in the lead-up to the 2001 elections.
Meanwhile, the state refused to [End Page 213] participate until it had fully explored the financial implications of the proposal. Flosse was furious at the delay and issued an ultimatum that, if the state was not prepared to contribute and honor its commitments, the territory would finance the entire project alone. In January Flosse's majority in the assembly went ahead and voted for the territory to fund the hospital 100 percent, thereby allowing the president to sign contracts and proceed with a ceremony to lay the first stone (TP, Feb 2001, 27-29).
The territorial government has also invested significant monies in improving infrastructure throughout the outer islands by way of building new roads, ports, and airports. The jewel in the crown of this plan is the complete renovation of the port town of Uturoa on Raiatea in the Leeward Islands. The first phase of this scheme has been completed with a new port costing FCFP 7.3 billion (FR 400 million). This includes a reception area for luxury cruise ships, extension of the docks, an artisan village, a public park, and administrative headquarters for the port authority (TP, Feb 2001, 33-35).
The territory's fledgling international airline, Air Tahiti Nui found itself in dire financial straits after losses of FCFP...