Wilkie Rasmussen, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, gives his views on politics and events in the Cook islands in this regular column. The same opportunity to write a column has been offered to the Prime Minister several times since the 2010 General Election, but this was never accepted or taken up. CI News maintains a strong stand as being politically neutral, and is unaligned with any party or politicians.
I once heard a judge warn a defendant who I was acting for during sentencing. “Young man,” said the wise judge. “Your conduct is unacceptable and you are skimming on the edge of the boundary of whether you go to jail or not”. Fortunately, that young man did not become a guest of Her Majesty’s barracks in Arorangi.
There are two things I would like to deal with in this column. The first is the notion that the Democratic Party is just paying lip service to the idea of political reform.
This was raised by a letter writer to criticise the notion of an independent electoral commission being set up to look into and then carve a way forward.
It was obvious that the problem the letter writer sees is that ultimately the decisions and recommendations by such an electoral commission will die a natural death when they are put to parliament to implement.
Parliamentarians will simply not, for example, implement cutting the number of parliamentary seats in our country.
The writer presumes that with a political party such as the Democratic Party, where two of its leaders (one being the party leader and the other a former party leader) are vying to be elected in constituencies (one with less than 100 electors and the other just over), the likelihood of them voting to cut seats are remote. That of course is a presumption, a discouraging one when for once the Cook Islands might have some traction when it comes to political or parliamentary reform.
The writer of course does not propose an alternative and therefore her views are self-defeating and properly driven purely by the political position she has taken, where once she did a stint in the Democratic Party camp with the sole purpose to get elected under that banner, but lost out in the selection process by the constituency she was keen to get elected in.
Now that is not to say that she cannot have an opinion to make public, but that discolours how genuine her views are and points more to her being motivated by an agenda to discredit the Democratic Party. I can certainly point to a dossier of anti-Democratic Party views and opinions since her self-removal from the Democratic Party.
But let me add this to the fray. This letter writer was the one that provided the vote needed to eliminate the overseas seat that was then held by the Auckland-based Dr Joseph Williams.
That’s my record of courage, when after all the huff and puff to have it eliminated there was a change of heart by one political party who had promised the public that it would do the deed.
Who knows? Perhaps there was a deal at the time between the Democratic Party and the Cook Islands Party to bluff the people, knowing full well that the government would not have the numbers and the opposition would not support.
But on the day the vote was called I told my leader at the time that I could not renege on what was told to the public and I would vote in favour of cutting the seat.
I won’t tell more about what happened to me afterwards. I was only a year and a bit as an MP but I was proud of it. That incident shaped my political outlook and it is possible to do such a deed if the best interest of the people is first and foremost.
Unfortunately, what the writer is suggesting is like killing the goose before it lays its egg. That’s a defeatist attitude.
Of course, as it stands now, incumbent MPs – particularly those with reduced numbers below 100 – will be nervous about committing hara-kiri and they will argue that they want to retain their constituencies in the spirit of being represented. But that is the challenge and it would be better for an independent commission to decide on the configuration of parliament.
The notion of doing away with seats was one proposed several decades ago by the then Political Reform Commission headed by Iaveta Short, and since then there has been the adoption of MMP in New Zealand – and Niue’s structure seems to work, where they have more MPs than we do for a population smaller than ours by several thousands.
Let me now turn to issues raised by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne regarding the danger that the Democratic Party is signalling to the public through the letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Arden that was published in the Cook Islands News.
He says that no one – certainly not him – wants the Cook Islands to be subservient to New Zealand and to be ruled again by New Zealand. Well, he seems to suggest that. In turn I am just being blunt about it.
I have to exclaim in astonishment at this notion. I must also say that after all of this time since he has been press officer for the Prime Minister, Mr Wynne appears to have found his political feet because he for once has a sting in his pen.
That was refreshing, purely in terms of journalism, but that does not necessarily mean that a letter of this nature could roll back the huge steps towards self-determination taken by our political forefathers and foremothers. That would be tantamount to ceding our right of self-government.
I’m sure Mr Wynne would have read my coverage of the views of academics focusing on the constitutional and political development of the Cook Islands in my column last week about the meaning of the Cook Islands having “self-government in free association with New Zealand”. They see the Cook Islands as being on equal terms with New Zealand in their relationship and the Cook Islands Parliament having the power to even legislate over its foreign affairs direction, even to be a member of the United Nations. New Zealand has no power by way of its parliament to pass legislation to nullify Cook Islands legislation.
However, let me point this out though. Mr James Beer, who I assume crafted and signed the letter to Ardern, is not a free agent and not without rebuke or opposition from within the Democratic Party.
If there are issues that members of the Democratic Party such as me and others disagree with, then such disagreement will be brought to Mr Beer’s attention.
The Democratic Party operates democratically and is open to members to raise issues of concern.
Certainly, I can say in no uncertain terms that the Democratic Party will not roll back the years and bring back colonial administration. Those days are long gone.
HERE’S what deputy prime minister Teariki Heather said in his Constitution Day speech: “It is not what your country can do for you but it is what you can do for your country.”
TO BE consistent, the next MP that the Cook Islands Police Service should prosecute is Moana Ioane.
It has now been nearly two years when the “Electoral” Court compelled by Section 100 of the Electoral Act 2004 referred the guilty finding of Moana Ioane for corruption to Police Commissioner Maara Tetava.
In the aftermath of the 20014 general elections nine petitions were filed by the Democrats in the High Court, one being against Moana Ioane, sitting MP for the Vaipae-Tautu constituency.
Appeals were lost by the Demos and of course the Cook Islands Party also filed its own petitions. Ioane was one of the casualties of these court sessions when he was found guilty of corruption. As a result of that decision, Ioane lost his seat and a by-election was called in which he contested and won again. Legally he was not barred from standing again as an MP, but there was a due process of law that requires that his guilty finding under the Electoral Act of 2004 render the matter to be dealt with as a criminal offence under the Crimes Act 1969, in particular under section 113(1).
This section provides for a Minister of the Crown or member of the Executive Council to face imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who corruptly bribes or attempts to bribe any person in his capacity as minister or executive member of the council. Ioane was a minister during the 2014 elections.
As of now, Mr Ioane is one lucky person for not being prosecuted and for enjoying the privileges and perks (including numerous travels on overseas trips) of being a government MP. This is despite the Chief Justice referring the guilty finding of the court to the Police Commissioner.
I am aware that this took place because while I was still the Leader of the Opposition and Democratic Party, I made inquiries to the Secretary of Justice about section 100 of the Electoral Act 2004.
I impressed upon his office of the need for the court to refer the finding to the Cook Islands Commissioner of Police and if they did not, I said I would personally file a complaint to the commissioner. I was advised that the Chief Justice had referred the matter to Tetava. I checked and that was the case.
But remarkably, there has been no indication as to whether prosecution of Ioane will take place, despite that fact that a guilty finding made against him.
This delay had never been explained by the police or the Police Commissioner in any detail, although at one time he said that he was seeking advice from overseas - I think from the Special Fraud Office, the very same law enforcement agency that the commissioner instructed to prosecute Teina Bishop.
The public are rightfully frustrated and just like I am in this column, they are demanding that the Police Commissioner lay his cards on the table as to whether or not prosecution will take place. The risk for the commissioner is that he will be suspected of pandering to the government, perhaps to secure his job, since it is the government who appoints him and renews his appointment. I don’t think for a moment that is the case, but the longer Tetava does not disclose what police will do, the worst people will think of him.
I am told police have been to Aitutaki a number of times to investigate the case and interview witnesses and among the forecasts is that there is a prima facie case to proceed with a prosecution.
Is it a question of lack of funds or lack of resources? If so then the commissioner should have prioritised his funding bid in the government’s annual budget passed a few weeks ago so that he could proceed in this matter.
Or is there a political obstacle that the commissioner has to navigate around or through? Well, the answer only lies with him, and the more he does not account to taxpayers as to what he is going to do and what he has been advised as the option to take, the worse it will be for him.
Lawyers who have discussed this matter with me have referred to issues relating to the required standard of proof. In the electoral court (civil court), Moana Ioane’s matter was decided on the balance of probabilities that he had committed corruption.
It is, however, different in the criminal court because the burden of proof rests with the prosecution and it must prove beyond reasonable doubt that Ioane was guilty of corruption. Some lawyers believe that the criminal requirement of proof is a lot tougher that the civil standard. But how are we to know, unless of course the matter is put to the court to decide. The standard of proof might be different, but the facts that capture corruption under the definitions of corruption are the same. So the likelihood for prosecution is much higher and much more certain.
Of course this is where it becomes interesting. With Teina Bishop out of the way, is the Government safe at all? Can it now govern with certainty? I do not think so.
I believe PM Puna, currently in Manihiki to celebrate Constitution in his constituency, is not out of the sludge yet. He has 12 MPs and Moana Ioane’s conviction could cut that number to 11.
Then, I say, he will advise the QR to dissolve Parliament and call a new general election.