Bishop says he is feeling confident heading in to the election. Asked about feedback from the public on OCI’s policy manifesto, he says: “They like the fact that it’s short and simple.
“Everybody loves it. They’re all achievable goals,” the former MP says.
Bishop says the party’s first priority will be to reintroduce the Constitution Amendment Bill, which will reduce the number of seats in Parliament from 24 to 20.
Last week, Bishop told CINews that tabling the bill would ensure concrete action towards political reform takes place. He says the local community would then have to be consulted as a part of the select committee process.
“I want people to know that our focus is on the voting population of each constituency, not the general population,” says Bishop.
“Three representatives for one island with a small voting population is not fair. It is not fair for democracy.”
Bishop says tabling the bill would be better than holding another commission of inquiry into political reform in the Cook Islands, as was recently suggested by both the Cook Islands Party and the Democratic Party.
OCI also has plans to remove pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) tax for all Cook Island residents who work. “This is a revolution,” says Bishop.
“Take aircraft pilots for example. They are taxed 30 per cent straight away. They then put five per cent of their pay towards their superannuation fund, then they pay 15 per cent VAT on all goods and services. They’re taxed almost 50 per cent of their income.”
OCI’s next policy priority concerns taxpayers paying for government vehicles.
Bishop wants to see all government workers purchase and maintain their own vehicles, as opposed to the current policy, which sees taxpayers footing the bill. The only exclusion would be emergency service vehicles.
He estimates the country would save close to $10 million if this policy change was made. Bishop would like to see that money spent on refunding the tax that has been collected from Cook Islands pensioners since 2014.
“If the government can do it for businesspeople, then we can do it for our pensioners,” he says, referring to the recent core tax write-off.
If elected into a position of power, Bishop says OCI will remove all taxes currently being enforced on both local and overseas pensions.
OCI also wants to remove the withholding tax on savings and term deposits. Bishop says the move would encourage children to save.
The OCI leader says his party is focused on finding ways to keep Cook Islanders in their country, and believes removing PAYE tax would help achieve that goal.
“We’re focusing on people and their basic needs,” he said. OCI’s aim is to leave purchasing power “in the hands of Cook Islanders, not the government”.
“People will be paying 15 per cent for the Value Added Tax (VAT) enforced on goods and services anyway.”
He claims the income generated from VAT has grown from $35.4 million over the 2008-2009 period to a predicted $58 million for the 2017-2018 period.
Although not necessarily a bottom line, another of OCI’s policies focusses on the salaries being given to MPs. Bishop says that if elected, his party will save a minimum of $250,000 per year by reducing the salaries for MPs. “That’s a million dollars saved in one term of government,” he says.
Finally, Bishop says that his party will aim to plug the “leakage” of $100 million which is being earned in the Cook Islands and then taken out of the economy and spent offshore.
“The money can go back into the things that people want,” says the leader.
He says he is confident his party will win at least three seats in the election, but is hoping for four.
Should OCI hold the balance of power after the election, the major parties will undoubtedly have to make concessions, says Bishop. And he says the desire of these parties to govern will mean OCI has a solid chance of getting its policies through to legislation.
There is also the possibility that OCI may favour a more independent option, supporting neither party, which would mean sitting on the cross benches. Crossbench MPs are those who do not vote regularly with the government or the opposition, he adds.
“As they say in rugby league, I can’t wait for the grand final,” says Bishop.
Tonight, OCI will hold a rally for its candidate in the Aitutaki constituency of Arutanga-Reureu-Nikaupara, Pumati Isaraela. Isaraela won the seat after a by-election was held in 2016.
Isaraela’s rally will be followed by another on Mauke for OCI candidate Tungane “Nane” Williams. At the last election, Williams fell short by 19 votes.