Cook Islands Party focus on infrastructure

RAROTONGA, 20 APRIL 2018 (COOK ISLANDS NEWS) – The Cook Islands Party (CIP) plans to continue focusing on infrastructure heading into the June 14 election.

In an exclusive interview with CINews, finance minister Mark Brown said the CIP would launch a list of their key policies on April 30, when they will also announce their candidates for the election.

The infrastructure projects currently underway in the Cook Islands are “intergenerational investments”, Brown says.

He says if the CIP government is re-elected, its focus will be on upgrading infrastructure relating to sanitation, as well as completing the planned Cook Islands submarine cable project. Other projects underway include Te Mato Vai project, renewable energy throughout all of the islands, and the construction of asphalt roads.

“Connectivity is (also) going to be an important part of the infrastructure that we are putting in place,” says Brown.

He says it is important for Cook Islands producers to have established business links that will help them to gain a return for their products.

“The success of ventures in the outer islands, particularly agricultural based (ones), has to be linked to being able to find a market for whatever they produce.”

Brown says achieving this goal is “a challenge”, due to issues around transportation, storage facilities, and labour resources. The CIP has invested significantly in machinery for the outer islands, to help with the problems of labour shortage, he adds.

“Everything we’re producing currently is being consumed domestically.” However, he admits there is opportunity for growth within the area.

With tourism now producing around 60 per cent of the nation’s GDP, Brown says the positive flow-on effects are starting to be felt. He claims that there has been a stimulus in the construction sector as a direct result of the boost in the number of visitors to the Cook Islands.

“We’re seeing increased growth in the construction of short-term holiday accommodation.”

Brown says the CIP will now focus on increasing the yields from tourism, meaning there will be an emphasis on specialisation within the industry.

Looking to the future, Brown says the Cook Islands’ greatest chance of diversifying away from its dependency on tourism, lies with the seabed minerals sector.

“That’s something that we’ve been involved with since the seventies. We’re now at a stage where we’re very close to taking a step into exploration.”

In the meantime, the minister says the CIP government continues to foster growth in sectors such as fisheries.

Better management means that the industry now brings in roughly 10-15 per cent of the nation’s GDP. “The licensing of fishing boats coming in to Pacific waters has been changed to ensure that we get a better return for (providing) access.”

The Cook Islands’ collective approach is based on two key principles – ensuring the sustainability of stock and improving the surveillance of fishing activities, he adds.

However, Brown says it will be “very difficult” for the Cook Islands to try and reinvigorate the domestic fishing industry. The high costs of production are a key factor in limiting further growth of the industry and he says it is difficult to get Cook Islanders to work on domestic fishing boats.

“They don’t really want that kind of work.”

The CIP will continue to focus on getting more money in return for the granting of licenses to fish within Cook Islands waters, Brown says.

In education, the CIP government has secured “nearly $30 million” worth of investment into infrastructure says Brown. Tereora College and Apii Nikao are the most recent beneficiaries of such investments.

Upgrades to hospitals, ports, and airports throughout the Cook Islands have all been achieved throughout the past eight years says Brown. He says the CIP now has a “sharp focus” on improving the capacity of Cook Islanders.

“Educating our children for living in the future that they choose to live in is going to be vital for us,” says Brown.

Brown says there will be improvements to support services for the elderly, including health care and aged care facilities.

And he says as the country prospers, the CIP government will ensure that those who are in need don’t get left behind.

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