3 Jul 2019

Cook Islands chiefs fear loss of mana in new land law

4:32 pm on 3 July 2019

Traditional leaders in the Cook Islands fear they will lose mana and control following the passing of a controversial new land law.

The Infrastructure Act allows government project managers to enter private land without prior notice to investigate possible new infrastructure, alterations or maintenance.

But Tupuna Rakanui, of the House of Ariki, said the chiefs should have been consulted before the legislation passed parliament unanimously.

Cook Islands:  Puna Rakanui

Cook Islands: Puna Rakanui Photo: Daniela Maoate-Cox

"The way the legislation's crafted at the moment - they tend to be encroaching on the rights of, from our perspective, the indigenous people," he said.

"And we need government to respect - we need the crown to respect that. And our job is to fight for the rights of our people."

The House of Ariki is composed of a body of chiefs - the ariki - appointed by the Queen's Representative, who represent different islands in the Cooks.

It is a parliamentary body in which chiefs should add their weight to matters before parliament, although it has little power in terms of the passing of legislation.

But Mr Rakanui said the chiefs were not being consulted with, and that as representatives of the country's custom owners, that is an outrage.

Te Mato Vai piping

The new infrastructure law allows access to private property to investigate things like new infrastructure. It was crafted after issues surrounding the Te Mato Vai project. Photo: Courtesy of Cook Islands Infrastructure

"There were a couple of traditional leaders who raised their concerns over the fact that they seemed to have lost their mana in determining certain issues.

"They would have preferred the matter be referred to a committee."

A select committee watered down the bill before it was passed into law to constrain access, so now officials can only access land if it doesn't disturb the occupier.

But Mr Rakanui said public meetings had been told that infrastructure managers would need to seek prior consent before coming onto land, except in the case of emergency.

"The traditional leaders felt there was insufficient time for them to consult the bill," he said. "It was a thick bill and they need to digest the various provisions of that bill."

Mr Rakanui said the traditional leaders would meet to look at their options.