Many goods in Pukapuka cost twice what they do in Rarotonga and some are more than three times as much, Elikana says, using a carton of chicken as an example.
“You go to the CITC here in Rarotonga and it’s about $24 to $25. Then you ship it to Pukapuka and it’s costing about $80 to $100,” he says.
“So if you are an individual on Pukapuka, your $10 is worth much, much less than somebody with $10 in Rarotonga.
“That’s just not on for me – and the only reason is because the freight cost and the add-ons to Pukapuka are just too much.
“If we come through Rarotonga, the international freight is included in the cost that we purchase goods at, and then added onto that is another freight, which is the national freight as well, from Rarotonga to Pukapuka, and that drives the price up,” Elikana explained.
Elikana believes goods in Pukapuka could be made significantly cheaper by having them delivered from New Zealand via Samoa or Tokelau.
“I think the best option for us is probably to look to Samoa, which is much closer to us,” he said.
“Another idea is to look at using the Tokelau boats – there’s a new boat that is being funded by the New Zealand government and donated to the Tokelauans. I know for a fact that boat goes to New Zealand and then brings cargo to Tokelau, so if we can get into an agreement with the Tokelauan government then that can be extended to the northern group – Tokelau is much closer than Rarotonga.
“Then you can get things direct from New Zealand, and that way you cut off the middle freight cost.”
Elikana said no legislation would be required to effect these changes – just the government’s “political will”.
“It’s just agreements – I think it’s something that can be achieved, depending on government’s political will to look at it,” he said.
“Our biggest challenge to it is probably from the big business here on Rarotonga, because they’ll be losing some of the customers that they normally have in the northern group.
“But I think government’s got to look at the big picture of looking after our people, which is one of the things that needs to be addressed – what is in the best interests of looking after our small populations in Pukapuka? And while I’m talking about Pukapuka, it’s actually an issue that affects the whole of the northern group – Penrhyn, Rakahanga, Nassau and Manihiki as well.”
Elikana said he himself was already having “preliminary talks” with the Tokelauan government regarding the freighting of goods to the northern group. “They are keen on it, but it’s just taking it to the next step with our people here.”
Any reduction in the cost of freight would make “a huge difference”, he said. “It will just make life in the northern group much easier in terms of cost of living.”
And while Elikana approves of the government’s waiving of freight charges for those returning to the northern group after Te Maeva Nui, he says a more long-term approach to the issue is also required.
“They’re buying left, right and centre because they’re not paying any freight!” he laughed, referring to his fellow Pukapukans who will soon be returning home from Rarotonga on the Tuvaluan vessel Nivaga III.
“The government has introduced subsidised freight on some of the vessels that go up to the north – that’s something government has created – but in the long run, for us, in order to improve the life of our people in Pukapuka, I think we have to look at other options, and the options that I’m looking at are sea transport in terms of our cargo through Samoa and Tokelau.”