MP representation is costly

Thursday May 17, 2018 Written by Published in Politics

Three MPs who will be voted into parliament in the upcoming General Election will represent constituencies with fewer than 100 voters each.

Recently-released general election voter population information shows Ivirua and Tamarua constituencies from Mangaia and Rakahanga with less than 100 voters each registered for the June 14 election.

The voter number in the three constituencies were below 100 in the 2010 and 2014 elections.

For this year’s poll, Ivirua has a total of 83 registered voters, Tamarua has 55 and Rakahanga has 56.

The average number of voters from the total of 10,315 registered to vote in the 2018 elections is 429.

Each MP gets a basic salary of $50,000 (excluding allowances) which means the MPs from the three constituencies with the fewest voters (a total of 194) will cost taxpayers $150,000 annually and $0.6 million over a full term.  In a political review report released in 1998, a commission chaired by Iaveta Short recommended that composition of Parliament be brought down to 17 seats. The recommendation was made after the commission took a close look at the low number of voters in some constituencies.

The commission which included the late Professor Ron Crocombe and John Herrmann, suggested there should be one MP for each of the islands of Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke, Mitiaro, Manihiki, Pukapuka/Nassau, Rakahanga and Tongavera.

For Rarotonga, the commission recommended one MP each for Puaikura and Takitumu and two MPs for Te Au o Tonga as a single constituency. They said four MPs should be elected by the whole nation as a single constituency.

“On the questionnaires in all islands, only 10 per cent wanted the present 25 MPs or more. Seventy-three per cent wanted 19 or less,” the report said.

“A minority of people recommended not cutting the number of MPs, but cutting their salaries, and the allowances that motivate them to stay and extend committee meetings. But most wanted fewer MPs.”

Commission members said they had been reminded many times that political leaders had cut the public service by 60 per cent but their own numbers not even by 1 per cent.

They said many Cook Islands residents felt that the smaller public service was more efficient as well as more economical, and that the same might apply to the number of MPs.

The commission said when the present system had been set up in 1965 (with 22 MPs or MLAs as they were then called), New Zealand had paid most of the government budget.

“Now Cook Islanders pay the full cost of the political system so each Cook Islander probably pays at least five times more for politicians now than they did in 1965,” the 1998 report said.

“The cost of politicians to each citizen will be much higher in future, and proportionately higher again because of the reduced income in the country as well as the reduced workload of the MPs.

“Politicians and the Parliament cost Cook Islanders 40 times more of their income than the same services cost New Zealanders in New Zealand.”

The commission said people living on the smaller islands felt very strongly that they wanted their own MPs and given their isolation, they agreed each island that already had an MP should retain them.

However, the commission suggested giving each MP the voting power of those they represented.

“Electorates (voters) can be put into categories so that perhaps an MP representing less than 500 voters might have one vote, 501-1000 might have two votes and over 1001 might have three votes,” the commission suggested.

“Such an option is more democratic than the present system and may be better adapted to the unique circumstances of the Cook Islands. But it is not a popular choice, especially in the islands outside of Rarotonga.”

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