The full facts on Manatua cable project

Friday May 25, 2018 Published in Letters to the Editor
Elizabeth Wright-Koteka. Elizabeth Wright-Koteka.

Dear Editor,

On Tuesday, May 22, you published an article with the headline ‘stop Manatua cable project’.  This article mainly quoted a press release that you did not publish, and James Beer’s opinion on the matter. 

First of all, in good journalism practice, you should have published the press release.  But for whatever reason, you decide not to do so, and made a headline article out of it. 

For the public’s information, I drafted that press release as the project coordinator, with the clearance of the Chief of Staff, and if it had been published in its full form, would have put some uneasiness to rest. 

The newspaper did ask me for further clarification, but I was in Mangaia at the time. I was trying to find ways to help our people in Mangaia. They can vouch for this. I have sent responses to your questions, but apparently after the timeline, and therefore haven’t been published.

But let me put some perspective on this issue of the Manatua cable. 

Note that this is not a government position, but rather a personal one. The truth is, if one is committed to this country, there is no government position, just a Cook Islands one, and that is how I have always operated. I’ve lived and breathed this project since its inception, I would like to think that this is why Government appointed me in this space, because I have no personal objectives in this space. 

For the public’s information, here are the additional questions from CINews and answers provided in the press release that were not published:

1. With $15 million from New Zealand, and $15 million sourced from the ADB, can I confirm that the estimated total cost of the Manatua Cable system to the Cook Islands will be somewhere in the vicinity of $30 million?

Answer: Given that the contract is yet to be confirmed, however estimated costs will probably be in the vicinity of $US20 million and hopefully less than that, when conversations are concluded with the successful bidder. 

2. What portion of the cable project’s total cost – at the moment ranging from $45-54million according to the bids provided, will be paid by Cook Islands in relation to the other three funding partners? Will the cost be split equally four ways or will it be divided in different proportions?

Answer: The proportion of costs is divided according to a common formula used with such cable arrangements – taking into account trunk length, spurs, cable landing station costs and of course the specifications for all these elements.  French Polynesia will bear the highest proportion of costs, followed by ourselves taking into account our distance in terms of length of the trunk and our own designated two spurs to Rarotonga and Aitutaki, supported by two cable landing stations.  The other two partners (Niue and Samoa) make up the rest of the cost allocation.  

3. Once the cable is actually here, will there be any annual running costs associated with the project? If so, what are they estimated to be?

Answer: There will be annual operating and maintenance costs and these will be better clarified when the procurement process has been concluded and supplier confirmed. 

4. At present, what is the estimated timeframe for when the cable to the Cook Islands will be up and running? 

Answer: The bidding documents state that the system be delivered 18 months from the time that the contract comes into force.  So given the process so far, this would probably be in 2020.

5. Is it possible to get any kind of estimate on the potential benefits consumers stand to gain as a result of the Manatua Cable? Either in terms of money saved or service/connectivity/data availability enhanced? 

Answer: MFEM has done some preliminary cost estimates based on previous assumptions of price.  Once the system price is confirmed with the supplier and we have negotiated transit pricing with both our transit points of Samoa and French Polynesia, we will be better placed to provide this information.  However, based on the experience of others, speed, reliability and capacity increased significantly, prices decreased with a narrowed gap between wholesale and retail costs.  It is certainly envisaged that this will be replicated here. 

This is rather a long letter, but necessary. Despite James Beer’s, misgivings, he should take a step and appreciate the quality of our Cook Islands people’s intellect. 

There are Cook Islands people that have our interest at heart and work really hard to determine the pros and cons. 

So please don’t agree to stop Manatua. Let’s open ourselves up to opportunity and harness those opportunities. 

Te wenua ke Malaga

            Elizabeth Wright-Koteka

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