Previously funded by the New Zealand government until their 10-year agreement ended last June, the Cook Islands Government stepped in to fill the void.
It was held at the office of Internal Affairs minister Albert Nicholas, who began proceedings by making an apology.
“I would like to apologise on behalf of the government for the long delays that some of you have had to endure during the process (of applying to the fund). Since New Zealand Aid has withdrawn its support after the last financial year, the government, with its commitment to improve welfare and social hardship have decided to take it on itself to fund the programme.”
A total $680,000 is allocated to the local Budget. It is provided over three years and is distributed to 17 different organisations targeting six main areas including gender equality, children and youth, elderly, domestic violence, disabilities and mental health.
Acting Ministry of Internal Affairs secretary Paul Allsworth, spoke about the importance of the agreement.
“The recipients have all signed their respective contracts and they’re very, very happy for that. This is to improve the well-being of the vulnerable in the community.
“Internal Affairs is very proud to undertake this project for our civil society.”
Despite the New Zealand agreement ending, Allsworth believed the intention was always to find a way for the programme to continue.
“I can’t speak for the politicians, but for me the intention was always to carry on. Because you can’t just stop assistance for disability or mental health and those issues. The government made this a priority to allocate the funds for that particular purpose.”
The figure distributed was reached after each organisation submitted a proposal detailing their goals and the amount that was likely needed, which was then subjected to rigorous reviews.
“The organisations submit their proposal, which then goes to an independent committee who go through and scrutinise the figures. After that’s finished, it’s given to Angie Tuara (the National Coordinator for the SIF), and once she’s gone through it it’s sent to me and I give it the final endorsement.
“So for example an organisation could apply for $100,000, and we look through the figures to see if it’s appropriate.
“The six areas that are covered are quite broadly defined. So any organisations under those target areas can qualify. But if you want to sponsor your soccer team, you won’t get funding,” Allsworth said, laughing.
Every six months the organisations that have qualified for funding will need to report in and their key performance indicators (KPI) will be analysed, to ensure that the funds are being used appropriately.
Chief fire officer Barry Hill and senior fire fighter Patricia Barton were present at the signing, representing the Puaikura Volunteer Fire Brigade.
“It’s the only income that we’ve got. This is the first time that we’ve applied for the three-year programme; previously it was on a year-by-year basis,” said Barton.
“We’re all volunteers, so nobody gets paid. The money that we get goes straight towards fuel, and keeping the fire trucks on the road.
“We go everywhere, same as any fire brigade, responding to every emergency.”