Government’s decision to use extra funds on an Atiu roading project earlier this year “reeks of political enticement”, says the Opposition Democratic Party.
The Executive Council topped up a budgeted $955,000 project with an extra $705,000 from its own extraordinary spending fund.
The top-up came ahead of a must-win by-election for the government.
Te-Hani Brown had resigned as a Democratic Party MP, to run for re-election as an independent. She switched her support from the Demos to the Cook Islands party-led government – giving the government enough seats to secure their majority.
The latest quarterly financial report shows government used $705,000 outside of the 2018/19 Budget to fund the stage one and two of the Atiu Road Improvement Project.
The Democratic Opposition Party said this “unauthorised expenditure” by Executive Council was in addition to nearly $1m already approved in the Infrastructure Cook Islands budget for Atiu roading.
“Without the endorsement of Parliament, the government has spent a further $705,000 through the Executive Council on Atiu roads,” Opposition leader Tina Browne said.
“The roads that were upgraded are in the electorates of Health minister Rose Toki Brown and government endorsed Tengatangi/Areora/Mapumai candidate Te-Hani Brown – this reeks of political enticement.
“One must ask, why only Atiu roads are being improved? Why not Mangaia, Mitiaro and the other Pa Enua?”
Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown hit back at the Opposition, saying their complaint was nothing more than “cheap political campaigning”.
Te-Hani Brown announced her resignation on February 6, which Browne said was at the encouragement of the minority coalition government. “The unauthorised approval by Executive Council of the extra $705,000 for Atiu roads came after Te-Hani Brown’s resignation.”
“The government’s modus operandi in this instance is very suspect – using Executive Council to divert significant public monies to pet projects to gain political favour. It’s an abuse of public money,” she said.
Browne said MPs were never given the opportunity to debate the extra $705,000 spending – but Mark Brown disputed that.
“This was also reflected in the supplementary budget that went to Parliament in April 2019 for Parliament’s approval.”
He said roadworks for the whole of Nga-Pu-Toru on Atiu had already been planned, but were suspended due to the Demos legal petitions.
“The only reason the work has not been carried out is a direct result of the Demo legal petitions to have the court determine their candidate rather than accept the election result. All roadworks were then suspended while we waited for the court process to be completed.”
In total the government spent about $4.11 million through Executive Orders which allows for expenditure to exceed by 1.5 per cent of the total Budget for a financial year.
The Opposition are calling for more stringent rules to apply to “unauthorised expenditure by Executive Council” saying the present system is flawed and allows Cabinet too much free reign to dip into the public coffer for pet projects.