Normally the final parliamentary sitting for the year is held in November but the Chamber won’t be ready for occupation until the end of that month. It was initially supposed to open at the end of this month.
Clerk of Parliament Tangata Vainerere said a number of factors led to the delay in the start of its construction. They include delay in obtaining the building license and the unavailability of the Cook Islands Investment Corporation staff who were busy with other projects.
“The construction work is well underway now. The actual extension of the Chamber started this week with Cook Islands Investment Corporation and their staff working on that. The extension will be well underway after a contractor has mapped out a plan,” Vainerere said.
“Because of the four weeks delay, the Chamber is expected to be ready by the end of November instead of October end as earlier projected.
“The sitting will take place soon after the opening of the Chamber but that will be a decision made by the Prime Minister and his team.”
The new Parliament, being renovated on a $300,000 budget, will be opened up to an engaged audience.
It will have far more seats in the public gallery, opening MPs up to scrutiny from curious locals. There will be space behind MPs for government and opposition officials to offer their advice.
Structures have been laid and the building supplies have been brought in for the rest of the project. The wall of the old Parliament has been opened up to allow extension work which will see the building extend towards the beachside. Work on the kitchen area and space for the stenographers and Parliament support staff inside the Chamber has also started.
Vainerere said the Chamber would start to take shape in a couple of weeks when the extension work begins proper.
And like the UK Parliament, a large Mace – an old-fashioned battle club – will be laid in the centre to remind MPs of the Speaker’s authority.
Earlier Vainerere said the introduction of the Mace would be one of the major features in the new Chamber, symbolically reinforcing Speaker Niki Rattle’s authority.
“When the Speaker comes in the House, the Mace is brought before her and when the Mace sits on the stand, it means the Speaker is in charge of the House.”
The Mace will sit on a central table, its crown always pointing to the government side of the Chamber.
“We are going to open up the walls and go outwards towards the beach side,” Vainerere said. “We have added 36 seats for the public gallery instead of the current eight, so that would give an opportunity for the kids who can come in their class and they all can go inside at once.”
The new Chamber will also have a dining space for the staff and a decking area for MPs to enjoy their lunch outside on a sunny day.