Cook Islands government dismisses PM aid money allegations
The Cook Islands government says claims Prime Minister Henry Puna got aid money he should not have are outlandish and ignorant.
The Cook Islands government says claims the Prime Minister Henry Puna got aid money he should not have are outlandish and ignorant.
It has been reported Mr Puna received US$100,000 worth of equipment and loan funding from the New Zealand government for his pearl farm in Manihiki.
Jenny Meyer reports.
The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union says there has to be better oversight of NZ Aid money after revelations in the New Zealand media that Mr Puna got a large aid grant through a pearl farming programme. The Union's Jordan Williams says aid money needs to be targetted at people who need it and New Zealand taxpayers shouldn't be forking out funds for a new boat and outboard motor to senior politicians. He says Foreign Minister Murray McCully needs to reveal if he knew Henry Puna would be the largest recipient of the project funds.
JORDAN WILLIAMS: If everything was above board this conflict would have been acknowledged and it would have been handled properly. Instead the Cook Islands government has reacted to the story just with secrecy. There are plenty of questions to be answered both by the Cook Islands Prime Minister and indeed by our own Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Cook Islands Financial Secretary, Richard Neves, says the allegations of large payments to the Prime Minister and comments from the Taxpayers' Union are outlandish and ignorant. He says the Cook Islands is one of the leaders in transparency across the Pacific. He says the Manihiki Pearl Farmers Association and the Ministry of Marine Resources work out what each farmer needs and the Finance Ministry buys the materials and then finalises who gets what.
RICHARD NEVES: I'm acutely aware as are many others that the Prime Minister is a pearl farmer and that there is obviously some optics around this. And that's why we're going well and beyond what is normally required in terms of a procurement process, in terms of publishing the outcomes.
Richard Neves says the final list of equipment has not yet been allocated and received by farmers and publication of spending will be done on the government website once that's completed.
RICHARD NEVES: I'm happy that we've done as much as we can to ensure that the New Zealand taxpayer and the Cook Islands taxpayer can be happy that New Zealand money is going towards trying to revitalise an industry which needs revitalisation in the Northern Cook Islands.
New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs, says the pearl industry was identified as a priority by the previous Cook Islands government with a proposal for funding being put before Mr Puna became Prime Minister. Murray McCully says it is widely known that Mr Puna is involved in the pearl farming industry. He says MFAT monitors all aid expenditure to ensure spending is consistent with contractual arrangements and provides value for money for New Zealand taxpayers. Mr McCully says MFAT has not brought to his attention any allegations of misuse of taxpayer funding in this case. If such allegations were to emerge they would be investigated in the normal manner. The former manager of Paradise Pearl Shell Limited on Manihiki, Jean-Marie Williams says his own company has not relied on aid funding to survive because of the hassle of bureaucracy. He says although Mr Puna stopped actively working in the industry when he became Prime Minister it is his job to advocate for support. And Mr Williams says with Japanese aid to the industry now finished most of the pearl businesses on the island would not survive without help from the New Zealand aid programme.
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