21 Aug 2013

Cook Islands opposition want to introduce code of conduct

4:58 pm on 21 August 2013

The leader of the opposition in Cook Islands says members of parliament need to stop mixing personal business with their ministerial responsibilities.

Wilkie Rasmussen intends to table a Code of Conduct Bill by the end of the week which would require MPs to declare any business interests.

The MP Teina Bishop recently resigned as minister of Marine Resources while a police investigation examines transactions between himself and a foreign fishing company.

Mr Rasmussen told Bridget Tunnicliffe it's just the latest example of a politician getting caught up in business outside of parliament.

WILKIE RASMUSSEN: He mixed his personal business with his ministerial responsibilities. And the prime minister has been warned a number of times of this going on, not with just one minister, but with a couple of ministers. But he hasn't done anything - no actions, no reprimand or anything of the kind. And to us this is just taking the country in a downward spiral. This seems to be just neglect, neglect by the top person who is in charge of this cabinet, who is in the position to discipline or to set the rules for his cabinet or the heads of ministry to follow and implement their own policies. But in this case absolutely nothing that we could see in countries like New Zealand, Australia and others where democracy... the rules and practises of democracy are observed much better than we have over here. Ministers over here do not declare their business involvement.

BRIDGET TUNNICLIFFE: So you say ministers do not declare their business interests. Are they meant to? Is there a loophole in the legislation? Should that be made a law where MPs need to do that?

WILKIE RASMUSSEN: Well, actually, we are way behind in that regard. We haven't got a code of conduct. One of the private members' bills that opposition is working on now, and I intend to table that by the end of this week, is a Code of Conduct Bill. At this stage, there's only one time that you make declarations. You make declarations to parliament. And that is whatever income you incur or get from your other activities, you've got to get that in parliament. And there's a form that you do so with. Otherwise there's no other requirement for anyone to declare. But it's taken as a protocol, as a convention, that anyone who becomes a minister divorces themselves... For example, if you're a company director you no longer are taxed as a company director. And the natural thing, of course, is to hand that over to a trust to look after your business affairs for you. That's really what's missing over here. We don't have that structure in place yet.

Wilkie Rasmussen says the prime minister, Henry Puna, is showing no leadership in this area and that's one of the reasons the opposition is calling for a snap election in October this year.