“We’ve come a hell of a long way and boxed above our weight,” he said, speaking to a capacity crowd at the National Auditorium to celebrate the nation’s 53rd anniversary.
In a blend of Maori and English, the prime minister shared his thoughts on another year of nationhood, the decades since August 1965, and the milestones of the past 12 months.
“It’s good at this time to look back and remember those who have worked so hard to bring prosperity to our small nation,” he said.
“We’ve done so much across a range of spaces in creating opportunities – in the church communities, our homes, in government, in sports, culture, education, and other fields.
“When we look at 1965, we see how far we’ve come and how much we have achieved in such a short time – even looking at the last year would show what’s been brought about for our country.”
Prime Minister Puna pointed out growth in tourism, the expansion of solar energy projects across the pa enua, and the Mei te Vai ki te Vai project for Rarotonga, which is being planned for replication across the rest of the Cook Islands.
The Manatua cable project also got a mention for the projected boost it will give business, education, health and the development sector, said Puna.
Recent months have seen the opening of new buildings for Apii Nikao and the national college as part of improvements to the education system, and the passing of the Marae Moana law has helped strengthen conservation at the national level, placing the Cook Islands as a global oceans leader.
“Of course, we wouldn’t have been able to progress these initiatives without the support of our valuable partners, especially New Zealand – who have stood with us and by us through our journey since 1965,” said Puna.
The prime minister thanked newer partners who have come on board as well, including a high-level delegation from Japan – Puna also noted that he hopes to welcome the Japanese prime minister to our shores in the “not too distant future”.
“Our diplomatic relations are a clear demonstration of our nationhood, where outward diplomacy will serve us well looking into the future,” he said, ending with a focus on the people of the Cook Islands.
“The most important part of nation-building is quietly playing out in homes and communities across our nation.
“This is where we will find our heroes and heroines – the secret to our success as a nation is our families, our people.
“While we are celebrating 53 years as a nation, our families have been around for hundreds of years, co-existing as one matakeinanga in the spirit of community.”
- Lisa Williams-Lahari