He’s talking about the outer island of Mangaia – nearly as large as Rarotonga, but “an island that lacks a secure economic basis”.
Ongoing construction work on the island’s harbour has highlighted some of its major development challenges, and Helen Henry - a resident and former island secretary - says the decrepit state of much of its machinery is one of the biggest obstacles to providing an improved life for residents.
When crews began to carry out work last month on upgrading the harbour infrastructure, much of the machinery had to be transported by barge from Rarotonga.
“The machinery on Mangaia used by government personnel to deliver services to the people is clearly ancient and in dire need of replacement or major overhaul to say the least,” says Henry, before providing some examples to back up her claims.
She says the crane for lifting cargo from barge to shore is situated on a 1998 Hiab truck, with a tree trunk as one of its stabilisers.
The Hitachi Wheel Loader once used to transport cargo along the quay area to the storage bay caught fire and was burned to a crisp.
The TCM Loader - the only remaining piece heavy machinery capable of assisting in cargo movement – is inoperable after blowing its pump by using the incorrect engine oil and through a lack of regular maintenance along with untrained operators.
Workers don’t have adequate transportation to service the island’s water intakes. Instead, they have to borrow a truck.
Since the days of Tuaine Tuara – a former island secretary - Henry says many requests have been submitted to various budget committees, cabinet ministers, finance and infrastructure ministries, donors and visiting delegates for funding to replace or purchase new machinery.
“No matter how detailed or brilliantly written the submission, it is very difficult to convince decision-makers who sit behind desks in air-conditioned offices that appropriating funds for much needed machinery is a sound investment to help an island develop,” she said.
"They are oblivious of what goes on in the islands and use textbook models to make estimates or theories on what these communities need to survive.”
The outspoken island resident points out that the same people writing strategic documents and government policy that aims on “improving the quality of life...”', are the same ones “ignoring the fact that the Pa Enua are actually a part of the Cook Islands.”
There aren't enough people, there’s not enough revenue generated for the Crown, and there is no indication of development – are some of the views of policymakers, says Henry.
An additional argument she often hears is that Rarotonga needs more funding because it has more residents.
“How will Mangaia ever develop if people continue to focus on these setbacks?” she asks.
This week, The Cook Islands hosted its fourth annual Development Partners Meeting, where a number of delegates from the nation’s donor partners heard presentations on topics such as development plans, disaster management, public expenditure reports, and performance in the public sector.
Include in the itinerary was a trip to day trip to Atiu, where the international group of delegates were given the opportunity to see the challenges faced by government in improving life in the outer islands.
She wasn’t commenting on that meeting in particular, but Henry says these types of mini-trips by officials are often futile exercises.
“Delegates visit on a Monday and depart on a Wednesday to conduct assessments of all sorts including, what Mangaia needs to grow,” she says. “How can you possibly gather the right information in just two days?”
“They drive around the island, talk to a few people, meet with Council and they are off again. You have to live the life to understand its problems.”
“It makes me mad to know that in my four to five years of residence on Mangaia, the amount of money spent on visiting delegations to “check out” our needs could have actually resolved some of those needs by now, and still nothing gets better.”
When a barge arrived last month in Mangaia loaded with equipment and supplies to be used for the harbour upgrade, Bill Doherty of Landholdings Ltd - a project contractor – took time to help island citizens unload cargo from a shipping boat that had recently arrived.
“All their gear was sitting on the wharf ... we didn’t mind helping out,” he said, adding the state of disrepair of the island’s equipment was obvious.
“It affects their ability to get things done.”
Henry said she was grateful for Doherty’s generosity, particularly because the island’s cargo shed was “battered beyond use” after the 2005 cyclones, and all efforts to have it repaired or rebuilt have failed.
“Today, if you don't turn up to the wharf to collect your cargo, it will sit in the rain as there is nowhere to store it on the harbour area,” she said.
Henry and Doherty’s sentiments are echoed by Mangaia Member of Parliament Tetangi Matapo, who says the problems have halted much-needed infrastructure improvements on the island.
Matapo said an island plan has been drafted, including plans for upgrades to water infrastructure, road works, and better health facilities.
“But there’s no machinery to do the work,” she says, adding the island’s development issues are compounded with nation-wide problems such as depopulation and a shrinking workforce.
In a bid to kick-start the local economy, Fellow Mangaian MP Winton Pickering bought a fleet of heavy machinery for the island in 2006 – part of big plans at the time which included a 12-unit resort and harbour reconstruction.
The resort was built, but Henry says bookings are slow these days.
“Some people may state that his efforts or ventures have failed, but I see beyond that,” she says. “If anything, he paved the way, now all it needs is for the leaders of this nation to take notice of his personal efforts and support it.”