An answer to finance minister’s question

Friday January 19, 2018 Published in Letters to the Editor

I don’t subscribe to Mark Brown's “ping-pong politics” nor do I respond to innuendo.


But the finance minister asked a question of me that needs an answer.

In reply to my letter to CINews on Wednesday this week, in which I pointed out that Brown had previously claimed the government wanted UN membership so the Cook Islands could borrow from the World Bank, the minister said: “Show me where I have ever said that James, because it isn’t true.”

I ask him now to look at a story in CI News on June 8, 2016 headlined: “UN aspirations make a return”, and the Hansard records from the same week. There you go, I hope that helps.

The matter I described in my earlier letter this week is of such a serious nature that it needs to be stated again, because it appears to me Mark Brown has developed the same illness that our prime minister caught in 2015. He denied ever making a statement in the New Zealand Listener about wanting to give up New Zealand passports, but later contradicted that by saying in the House: “Why shouldn’t we have a seat at the big table of the United Nations?”

Quite obviously he knew a long time ago that Cook Islands couldn’t be a member of the UN as well as retaining New Zealand citizenship. It would simply be a farcical situation and New Zealand’s international reputation would be tainted.

The credibility of the source behind the allegation that the PM and Brown brought up the issue of UN membership at their meeting with New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and deputy prime minister Winston Peters last month, is indisputable. There is no reason for the person to make such a claim without it being true and I don’t have to state the source. Their credibility is beyond reproach. So I can only surmise that Mark Brown has completely forgotten that he or the PM posed the question of UN membership and dual citizenship to government representatives when they visited New Zealand late last year.

Ordinarily a mission of this nature includes both government and opposition representatives, taking a bi-partisan approach. We see this when the New Zealand government visits the Cook Islands. They bring along other MPs from different political parties because it is democratic and proper. The mission to New Zealand by our government was a goodwill mission, a meeting with the new New Zealand government to discuss matters of mutual interest and concern.

It’s obvious now why no invitation was offered to the leader of the opposition or an opposition representative: there was some business that needed to be classified.

Let’s be clear. New Zealand citizenship is something that many Cook Islanders consider non-negotiable. The New Zealand government has stated several times that being a member of the UN requires a country’s own passport and citizenship. You can’t have it both ways! And frankly I agree with them. I don’t subscribe either to Wilkie Rasmussen’s conclusion that this is a natural path or an evolutionary one - at least not now. We’re not there yet, not by a long shot!

By definition, having our own passport and citizenship would require us to be totally independent, assuming the responsibility for taking care of our own people in every way. So no more New Zealand health referrals worth millions of dollars a year, no more millions of dollars injected into our annual Budget, into health, education and tourism. No more millions of dollars in renewable energy or other infrastructure projects like Te Mato Vai, no more assistance in drafting legislation and we would have to have our own functioning and internationally-tradable currency or pay to use New Zealand’s.

The support that we get from New Zealand and Australia makes a long list.

Additionally, construction has been part of the “boom” that Mark Brown describes, but it is not entirely directly from revenue generated from within our borders. New homes and accommodation are being built by Cook Islanders who have worked in New Zealand and Australia and without access to those countries, we would not have access to those jobs.

When we are able to be truly disciplined, when we know where the priorities are and are able to stay the course, only then will we have evolved to the extent we could aspire to “eating at the big UN table.” For now, our people in the outer islands struggle with a lack of the basic necessities like doctors and dentists. Who can blame them for leaving?

In every meeting to date that the opposition has had with New Zealand government representatives, they have never suggested or given the impression that this is something they want to end. That choice is entirely ours and we continue to be transparent in every way, no matter what the consequences.

On the other hand, the covert way in which this government has acted and their continuing denials regarding this matter suggests that this issue is a long way from being over.

            James Beer

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