The black Toyota Prado – just like the one the New Zealand High Commissioner drives – was purchased for about $65,000. The cars are described as “the limousines of the Pacific”.
The Environment Service bought it at the request of new director Nga Puna, because they said the previous director’s Toyota Hilux was too small for him.
Puna is believed to have authorised the purchase, and was seen using the vehicle.
Financial secretary Garth Henderson yesterday confirmed the Prado was purchased as a project vehicle for the Ridge to Reef Project.
The steering committee of the multi-agency funded project approved the purchase of the vehicle, “as they are entitled to”.
“Unfortunately the Prado is considered a luxury vehicle not suitable for project work,” Henderson said.
The decision was made to transfer the vehicle to the use of the Queen’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters, whose existing vehicle needed replacing.
“The project funds used to purchase the Prado will be reimbursed from the Capital Funds appropriated in the budget for capital/vehicles and machinery,” Henderson said.
“It is expected that a pickup truck will be purchased for the use of the Ridge to Reef Project.”
Cook Islands News yesterday emailed Puna for clarification on why he authorised the purchase of Toyota Prado. He referred all queries regarding the vehicle to Henderson.
Henderson volunteered: “I don’t believe any offence has been committed.”
Nga Puna is married to Diane Charlie-Puna, the Secretary of Infrastructure.
The internal government row over the purchase of the Toyota Prado coincided with Charlie-Puna being stood down from her role.
Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas was investigating her over allegations she put up her family in the Edgewater Resort, at taxpayer expense.
Thomas announced last week that she had been restored to her post. He said the spending at the Edgewater had been an “unintentional internal control oversight by Ms Diane Charlie-Puna [during] an extremely busy time”.
In June this year, Government bought four new electric cars at a cost of $240,000.
The Hyundai Ioniq Elite electric vehicles have been given to the offices of Prime Minister Henry Puna, his deputy Mark Brown, health minister Rose Toki-Brown and prison services minister George Maggie.
Garth Henderson then said the previous ministerial cars “are in good order” and were being reassigned to other public servants.
In the 2017-18 budget, $400,000 was appropriated for the purchase of motor vehicles and other capital equipment.
A total of 41 requests were received worth $870,780 from 14 different agencies. Of these 14 agencies, eight agency applications were approved for a total of 23 motor vehicles at $371,234.
In the Appropriation Amendment Bill passed in April this year, government sought extra $657,000 for the Capital Distribution Fund which was partly used for purchase of electric vehicles to replace the ageing vehicle fleet of government agencies.
The Fund received $910,000 in the 2019/20 Budget.