The delegation led by New Zealand’s deputy prime minister Winston Peters and Police and Fisheries minister Stuart Nash will be in the Cook Islands this week for the annual Joint Ministerial Forum between the two countries to be held on Aitutaki on Friday.
A spokesperson for the Democratic Party said they were slated to meet the New Zealand delegation in the initial programme but the meeting was removed in the final programme.
The programme was prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with input from the Office of the Prime Minister, the spokesperson claimed.
“The Opposition was included in the first draft of the programme to meet with the New Zealand delegation but a second version was issued which removed a meeting with them because of a number of concerns that the Opposition wanted to raise with the New Zealand delegation,” the spokesperson said.
“The leader met with the New Zealand high commissioner (Tessa Te Mata) and these concerns were presented. The Opposition is expecting the New Zealand high commissioner to be the conduit to relay these concerns to the New Zealand envoy. Among those concerns is law and order in the Cook Islands.”
Prime minister Henry Puna will lead the Cook Islands delegation at this year’s forum, supported by deputy prime minister Mark Brown and Cabinet ministers.
In a statement, the PM’s office said the seventh forum between the two countries is expected to build on the outcomes of last year’s meeting hosted by New Zealand at the Waitangi Treaty grounds.
The selection of Waitangi by New Zealand for its hosting last year was symbolic of the historical and cultural significance of the relationship between the two countries.
“Discussions this week are expected to build on the positive outcomes from last year which included pension portability, strengthened ministry to ministry links and support for water and sanitation,” the statement said.
“Discussions this week are also expected to articulate priority areas for co-operation between the two governments in the years ahead.”
PM Puna said their political and economic relationship with New Zealand was in good health, and it enabled a mature broad-ranging discussion on a number of national, regional and international issues.
“The terrorist attack on Christchurch was a brutal reminder of how vulnerable every country is to acts of terrorism, and we will be discussing with New Zealand strengthened security co-operation at the national and regional levels and beyond,” Puna said.
The two governments are also expected to discuss better health outcomes for all Cook Islanders through improved health workforce capability and strengthened connections between health systems.
Talks are also expected to extend to working together to maximise the benefits and minimise any risks from the Cook Islands graduating to high income country status next year, and supporting the development and maintenance of resilience and accessible infrastructure in the Cook Islands.
DPM Brown is expected to take the lead for the Cook Islands at the forum discussions on financing for resilience building.
“We have for some time now advocated with our development partners and multilateral development financing entities for financial products that reflect the slow onset of climate change impacts on our country. The likes of 60 year loans with zero interest rates. Without innovative financing instruments which recognise the increasing intensity of weather induced disasters, building resilience and managing debt sustainability is untenable for the Cook Islands and most in our Pacific region,” Brown said.
Preparations for this week’s forum have been coordinated by the foreign ministries of the two governments with various discussions held since last year’s meeting at Waitangi.
“Senior officials of both governments met in Wellington last month as the JMF Working Group as part of preparations for this week’s discussions, and we look forward to delivering some meaningful outcomes for our people,” said foreign secretary Tepaeru Herrmann.