In May the Taxpayers' Union revealed that $116,000 of NZ Aid money, intended for economic development, was used to buy Cook Island Prime Minister, Henry Puna a new boat and outboard motor. The Cook Islands Government initially denied the claims, which were later found to be well founded following a 3 news investigation. Two months later, in July the New Zealand Government denied the Cook Island Prime Minister eligibility to receive future NZ aid funding.
Cook Island Government Initially Refutes Taxpayers' Union Claims:
Cook Islands government dismisses PM aid money allegations 'Dateline Pacific' Radio New Zealand - 22/05/2014
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.
Click here for the full Radio NZ report - 22/05/2014
New Zealand Government Denies Cook Island PM Further NZ Aid Payments:
Cook Islands PM denied pearl farm funding 3 News - 18/07/2014
Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna has been denied NZ Aid funding for his pearl farm following a 3 News investigation earlier this year.
In May, it was revealed that Mr Puna had requested $116,000 worth of equipment and loan funding for his Manihiki pearl farm despite an apparent conflict of interest.
Since then, pearl farmers who requested funding have been reassessed under the requirements signed off between the Cook Island and New Zealand governments. Mr Puna did not meet the criteria. It is unclear whether the reassessment was a direct result of 3 News' investigation.
One of the requirements was that pearl farmers had to be active to receive funding. However, Mr Puna's pearl farm was struck off by the Companies Office in November last year and his media adviser Trevor Pitt said the farm had been dormant since 2010.
Jordan Williams, executive director of the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union, is happy with the response but has further questions he wants answered.
"While we are delighted that future aid money won't be wasted on the Cook Islands oligarchy, NZ Aid needs to front up and explain how this happened in the first place.
"We still don't know precisely what the New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister knew and when."
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) says it is working with the Cook Islands Ministry of Finance to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions of New Zealand's funding arrangement.
Prime Minister Henry Puna has not responded to interview requests.
Click here for the full 3 news article - 18/07/2014