Cook Islands’ parliament to finally sit

Cook Islands Parliament. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cook Islands Parliament. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Cook Islands’ new parliament will finally sit next Tuesday, seven-and-a-half months after its general election.

Parliament has been held ransom to a clause in the country’s constitution which requires all petition hearings to be completed before parliament can sit.

Prime Minister Mark Brown has promised to change the constitution and previously told RNZ Pacific the law made a “mockery of the separation of powers”.

“Any petition or challenge is a matter for the judiciary to deal with separately outside of parliament and parliament should be able to conduct its business despite petitions being heard,” he said.

The amendment to the constitution is also backed by opposition leader Tina Browne, who told Cook Islands News, “it was quite wrong” for there not to be a sitting for so long.

Clerk of Parliament, Tangata Vainerere, said staff were said to be “all excited” to get the 18th sitting underway.

Members of Parliament will sit for a minimum two days but the length of the sitting will be dependent on MPs’ movements, Vainerere said.

The final petition hearing for the Titikaveka seat in Rarotonga’s south was retained by Cook Islands Party candidate Sonny Williams who won the electorate by three votes.

Williams, who will be a new MP, said he was glad the petition hearing was over.

“It’s been a while, it’s been too long,” he said.

“A relief for myself and my supporters, but also those voters who were petitioned for passing the vote. Some of them had to stand by for the court case all this time, either to be summoned to court or to give evidence.”

One of the other failed petitions, filed by the Cook Islands United Party, claimed a policy by the governing Cook Islands Party was bribery, which will give a tax-free threshold for people in the outer islands earning $15,000 to $60,000.

However, then-Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams dismissed the claim last November. In his judgment he said all parties were “jockeying for votes” so the notion that the party was “motivated by a corrupt intention recedes in credibility”.

Cook Islands News reported Prime Minister Brown will make passing the tax policy a priority.

The paper said MPs from the outer islands stand to earn an extra $200 per week, while those earning the minimum wage will earn only an extra $10 per week.

Source: RNZ