A Look

Iaveta Taungaotetini Short
CIRA Conference – Feb 2009

The changes in the first 800 years of life in the Cook Islands were so slow that they would hardly have been noticed. Some changes of technology, economy, government and religion in the last 180 years were greater than the previous 800 years. But the enormous changes that are likely to confront us over the next 40 years may be greater than the past hundreds of years. Are we doing enough to prepare ourselves to adapt to continuing radical change in our lifetimes?

When I first left Rarotonga for New Zealand in 1958 on the ship Maui Pomare it took seven days to reach Auckland. To travel to New Zealand in those days one had to book a berth six months or more earlier. Now you can buy a ticket, get on the plane and be in Auckland in four or five hours. Once there you are at the gateway to travel to any center of the world.

With the escalating speed of change it is anyone’s guess what we will be like in 2050. But it is not only guesswork. Some trends are much more likely than others. In this paper I look at two scenarios for the next 40 years. In one, we will be generally successful in harnessing and adopting the right changes and innovations to fit our unique situation and not be overwhelmed by the onslaught of changes wrought from outside.

In the second scenario we behave like we have been behaving in the last 40 odd years – stumbling along, learning on the job, making some awful mistakes, often in blissful ignorance of what in reality is happening – like a rabbit caught in the car headlights. We have been overawed and overwhelmed by the demands for change wrought upon us by mainly good intentioned world organizations, governments, foreign corporations and entities, but we are also vulnerable to con-men. We are the classic case of “if NZ sneezes we catch the cold”. More often than not we simply followed the dictates of the world at large without making informed selections of what to adopt and what not to. So-called “world standards” in everything are adopted even though 90% of it has absolutely no relevance to the Cook Islands. I was for example surprised to read about one of our ministers traveling to some remote center in the world to sign the treaty to ban all land mines.

I do not necessarily agree with any or many of the predictions I make for 2050 but I expect many will happen anyway. I have been deliberately provocative to rattle many old and unworkable mindsets and to stretch our boundaries to accommodate the enormous changes that are upon us.


1. POPULATION – 100,000.
80,000 on Rarotonga, mostly living in high rise unit titles.
20,000 in the outer islands.

Population Mix:
20,000 Cook Islands Maori (including all of Maori descent)
20,000 Australians and New Zealanders
30,000 Asians
10,000 Other Pacific Islanders

Outer islands
10,000 Cook Islanders
10,000 Non Cook Islanders

30% of the business owned by Cook Islanders, mostly in property ownership – apartments (unit titles), rental homes, offices, commercial buildings and joint ventures
30% owned by NZ or Australians – mostly trading and manufacturing
40% owned by Asians – small business, manufacturing and exporting natural products.
80% of business activities in the outer islands are owned by non Cook Islanders.

30% of the national income and business activity derived from deep-sea mining
30% from tourism
20% from offshore business – banking, trusts, insurance and company registrations
10% from other marine and agricultural resources
10% other.

Outer Islands
Government will devise generous and attractive development packages for each outer island in consultation with them, to attract international companies. Outer islands will be encouraged to be corporatized and leased – eg to a hotel chain like Outrigger, or a company that may develop ecotourism. Universities and colleges could be invited to develop a campus on an outer island for ecological and cultural experience. Marine and agriculture production, hi- tech, I.T., retirement homes, etc etc all have potential.. There are numerous opportunities. Only the lack of knowledge and will is holding the outer islands back. With solar, wind, thermal and other renewable energy the outer islands will no longer be disadvantaged, and their isolation makes them attractive.

1. Who can vote:
Only Cook Islanders and those with Permanent Residence (PR) will be able to vote and seek election to Parliament. With 30,000 Cook Islanders and 20,000 PR, the voting population is 50% or 50,000.
PR numbers would be limited to two thirds of Cook Islanders so Cook Islanders retain the majority in the political arena (on paper anyway though in reality it may not be)

2 How many seats.
Rarotonga 20 seats. One seat per vaka (3) and 17 by party vote as one constituency.
Outer Islands 10 – by islands constituency based on a minimum of 500 to 1000 per constituency. (Constituencies to be free to determine the format of election – by vote of hands, by appointing the Mayor or island leader etc. There will be a move away from the fixation with elections that has preoccupied Cook Islanders for the last 45 years.

MPs to be paid only a sitting allowance based on double the basic wage hence they will need other occupations or means of support. Parliament’s main task would be to elect the Prime Minister, confirm his cabinet nominees, set their program and budget and monitor their performance. In addition they shall debate and pass laws. Many difficult issues shall be decided by referendum, which will held as needed by email and computer systems.

3. Complete separation of Parliament from Executitve.
The executive government shall be corporatised.
a) The Prime Minister is confirmed by Parliament. He is chosen by a selection panel appointed by Parliament. The Panel shall present three candidates for Parliament to elect one. The persons nominated need not be Cook Islanders or PR. Nomination is based on qualification, experience and ability not ethnicity, political affiliation or family.
b) The Prime Minister selects his cabinet based also on qualifications, experience and ability.
c) The Parliament gives the PM a mandate in a budget with clear targets to achieve. The PM can be dismissed by Parliament and the PM can dismiss any member of his cabinet – both within strict guidelines. The term of the Prime Minister (four years?) is the same for Parliament. If Parliament is dissolved the PM will offer his resignation to the new Parliament.
d) Targets must be achieved.
e) MPs will finally be rid of the drudgery of having to mother their constituencies. They no longer have the executive power to manipulate the system and will no longer be at the beck and call of their constituents. MPs will focus on policy and what is good for the country and the world at large.

Land remains largely owned by Cook Islanders.

All lands to be defined and allocated in shares based on one denominator. Eg one share equals one square meter or one acre etc, so that all land shares have the same value in terms of area.

Families can buy shares of other family members in the same land, but no land can be sold outside the family.
A land valuation system will be established and all unused lands shall be rated.

Government will establish a land bank of rated and unused land.

Occupation Rights are abolished and replaced by freehold. Compensation can be paid to land owners who grant freehold rights. (The present occupation right system is unfair to other landowners who lose their land rights forever without compensation)

A Land Lease Act shall stipulate the basic terms of leases, the rights and responsibilities of lessors and lessees and any other necessary provisions. The parties can add any other terms or conditions that are not contrary to the act. There will be no more need for leases to be confirmed by the High Court or the Leases Approval Tribunal.

Any person can lease his/her share in a piece of land without the need for approval of others whose shares are not affected in the same piece of land.

All leases shall be for 21 years with a perpetual right of renewal subject to the following

a) The landowner shall have the right to buy back the lease at any of the 21 year renewal periods at a price to be approved by a tribunal. However the landowner cannot be used as a front for another person to buy the business. The lessee has the first right of refusal if the landowner tries to resell the leased land.[WHAT IF THE LESSEE HAS INVESTED HEAVILY? – NOT LONG ENOUGH>>]

b) rent reviews every 7 years based on government valuations of the unimproved value of the land.

c) all goodwill or benefits granted in return for a lease must be disclosed to all landowners whose shares are involved. All landowners shall share in all goodwill and rent based on their shares in the land in the lease

d) landowners will have the right to convert annual rent or goodwill to acquire shares in any business on the leased land. Share values to be determined by arbitration.


Absent Landowers
Resident family members are enabled to purchase the shares of absent landowners on a government valuation basis. The absent landowner has two options – return and occupy the land, lease it to others himself, or pay the land rate every year.

No automatic succession by those born overseas. They must reside in the Cook Islands continuously for at least one year before they can succeed to any name in any family land.


1. The government revenue is assumed to be about USD1.5 billion being $1b from normal revenue (VAT, taxes, etc) and $500m from proceeds of nodule mining and processing.

2. Seabed mining will be carried out by Government on a Joint Venture basis in all levels of the process.
Government will not mine unless the technology is available to allow the minerals to be processed within the Cook Islands.

50% of all income from the nodules to go into the government budget.

Of the remaining 50% ,the country will invest 30% in secure government bonds only via the NZ government and will receive interest on all funds. In addition Government will buy large blocks of land in NZ and Australia and lease it (using the Cook Islands model – OF WHAT???) All rental income will be reinvested in buying more lands. This is a buffer for the Cook Islands in the event of coasts being submerged in the ocean by global warning.

The other 20% shall be given to aid programs for the poor – e.g. World Vision, Red Cross, directly going to the poor in countries that suffer from nature, not from bad government.

3. The Finance center is expected to have about 20 trustee companies and over 100,000 companies registered in the Cook Islands.

4. Government Departments. The Cook Islands will move closer to NZ in areas where there are obvious benefits. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The following areas should be closely linked to become an extension of NZ Government programs.
Banking – Reserve Bank

5. Cook Islands will lead the Pacific Islands countries in terms of the highest GDP per capita. The Forum Secretariat will be relocated in Rarotonga.


1. Traditional Leadership will be a relic of the past to be remembered. Ui Ariki and other traditional titles – Ui Mataiapo, Ui Kavana and Ui Rangatira will be merely ceremonial and have even less influence than now.

2. Religion.
With the increase of Asians in the country, there will be Hindu temples, Buddhist temples and Muslim Mosques on the island serving mainly Asian immigrants.

3. Christianity will continue to be the religion of most Cook Islanders. The Cook Islands Christian Church will lose its dominance to fragmented Christian cell groups and home churches with individual brands of Christianity. The CICC will rigorously hold on to its age old traditions while many of its former members “seek the new wine” in new churches. The other main Christian churches, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons will remain but like the CICC will lose members to cell groups and home churches.

4. With a higher population the Cook Islands will feature better in international sports and will be a force in the South Pacific Games and will also have viable candidates for Commonwealth and Olympic honors working through NZ and Australian sports systems.

5. The Cook Islands will excel in entertainment – music and the arts. Rarotonga will be a Mecca for the art world producing its own distinctive arts and craftwork. Gone are the days when tourists bought cheap Chinese or Indonesian-made tangaroas. They will pay good money for the real McCoy. Cook Islands singers will break into the big time peddling distinctive island sounds in the same way Bob Marley put Jamaica and the Caribbean on the music world stage.

6. The close knit social fabric will loosen, and most family reunions will shift to Auckland and Cairns. Rarotonga will be crowded and commercial and Rarotongans will be keen to escape the drudgery of hosting families returning every Christmas. Instead they will engineer family gatherings in Auckland or Cairns instead of Rarotonga.

7. There will be no sizeable change in the sea level and climate remains in a state of permanent el nino. [???? – not likely!]


1. POPULATION – 30,000
20,000 on Rarotonga and 10,000 in the outer islands.
About 10,000 of the 30,000 have Cook Islands blood. The rest will be 12,000 Asians, and 8,000 Australians, New Zealanders and other Pacific Islanders.

25% will be owned by Cook Islanders
40% by NZ and Australian connections
35% by mainly Asians

50% of the nation’s income will come from seabed mining. All that income will go to the government budget.
40% will be from tourism-related activities
10% will be from offshore banking and other enterprise.
Most other business (e.g. agriculture) is sustained by serving tourism and mining.

Outer islands
No major development except for tourism in Aitutaki and Atiu and Mauke. Mangaia mainly in agriculture to supply the Rarotonga market.
The northern group mainly fishing for the Samoa canneries. Pearl culture remains a small but profitable enterprise.

Little change to the present system. Normal registration prior to a general election and over 90% of eligible voters vote. Voting is compulsory.

There will be 21 seats based on population. A Constituency Commission will adjust the seat allocation according to population movements.

Rarotonga will have 12 seats and outer islands 9

The party system will still have a stranglehold on the government system and parliament. The Westminster system is retained, i.e. Government is awarded to the party with the majority of seats in Parliament and all the Executive (Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers) are elected from members of Parliament.

Any loss of majority support for the Prime Minister in Parliament will automatically trigger a general election. On average the country will have a general election every two years.

Land ownership continues the present system with little change. Political parties avoid land problems as a hot political potato. The courts are clogged with land disputes and many old land investigations are reopened based on allegations of fraud. Family disputes over lands and titles continue to escalate, and reduce standards of living. The land records remain in a shambles (as they are now) and no longer a reliable source of information on past dealings in land. Attempts to eliminate the right of landowners residing overseas are defeated by a wholesale lobbying by a well-organized overseas lobby groups. The courts are constantly used by overseas Cook Islanders to choke up any land transactions because of outstanding applications for review or rehearings or partitions of determination of relative interests.

Leases become more and more difficult due largely to family land disputes. The price for a quarter acre lease for 60 years ranges from $100,000 to $300,000 and annual rental at $5,000. A lot of family manipulation of land to grant leases and the goodwill is often not fully disclosed. Many forms of goodwill are given in kind.

Occupation Rights will be expanded by legislation to give the same tenure as a lease and can be traded or dealt with as a lease. No land rates because it is politically dangerous.

Government revenues about $600m being $400m from taxes VAT etc and $200m from seabed mining. Seabed mining income from license fees only and mining processing is carried out outside of the Cook Islands, by non Cook Islands entities.

Cook Islands remains heavily dependent on overseas aid mainly from NZ, Australia and Asia (mainly Japan and China)

The Cook Islands maintains its independence and will not move closer to NZ in terms of cooperating in services such as health, education and security.

The Cook Islands will fall behind Samoa, PNG and Fiji in the level of income per person.

Traditional Leadership will continue to be recognized but have no power and a largely ceremonial role. Those with traditional titles who have ability and leadership will rise in politics and commerce. Selection of traditional leaders will shift from a focus on primogeniture (the eldest of the eldest), to leadership qualities.

2. Religion. Christianity will remain the main religion and the churches will be more vocal and militant in opposition to non-Christian sects which may try to establish in the Cook Islands. The CICC will continue to represent most Cook Islanders. There will be a noticeable growth of breakaway informal Christian sects – cell groups and home churches.

3. There will be considerable focus on entertainment and the arts including a Polynesian music explosion. Dance teams will tour various centers and perform for money. The recording industry will increase and more fine artistic work will grow out of the Cook Islands.

4. With a limited pool of people the Cook Islands will continue to lag far behind its larger neighbors in sport and other forms of achievement. Sports and entertainment remain the passport for many young Cook Islanders to escape.

5. There will be a renaissance of selected aspects of Polynesian culture especially in the retention and growth of Maori language and expressive arts. There will be a genuine search for the lost past (in practice, a few selected elements of it) with a view to restoration or revival. This in essence is a new quest for identity, which may be seen as a return to native identity as a turanga vaevae, but will in fact be largely symbolic.

Scenario one sees 2050 as a result of a constant and conscious desire to step out and map out a new direction for the Cook Islands by adapting in a proactive manner to the constant impetus of change from all influences – commerce, technology and sciences, social and psychological forces, international and regional pressures, and the changes forced on us by nature.

Scenario 2 reflects a society gradually adapting to the changes from outside in a reactive rather than a proactive manner. Twenty years from now that would result in a kind of symbolic renaissance and a return to the key elements of the old and the traditional (e.g. tattoo, expressive arts etc, but not much in reduced dependence on money, technology, hi-tech communication etc) in much the same way as the Maoris of NZ moved to re-establish “Maoriness” in the early 1970s which saw the establishment of kohanga reo and the return to elements of Maoritanga.


1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. mamashomesite  |  July 29, 2017 at 9:01 am

    Dear God–or Great Spirit as I prefer–how do we stop this?? Its all too possible. Email me. We’re in the same line. Ngati Teaia.


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