The Cook Islands Government has welcomed further support from New Zealand for pandemic response; $7.5 million in climate finance; and $200,000 to support the Cook Islands assumption of the Pacific Island Forum Leaders (PIFL) Chair responsibilities and hosting of the PIFL Meeting in 2023.
The announcement was made by New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta during her first Ministerial visit to the Cook Islands. New Zealand confirmed an additional $3.8 million in health support through the Polynesian Health Corridors Program available to the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu.
The additional health support was welcomed by Te Marae Ora (TMO) frontline workers who together with Health Minister Rose Brown and TMO Secretary Bob Williams hosted Minister Mahuta on a tour of Rarotonga hospital earlier this month. The package of health support is aimed at bolstering pandemic preparedness and response over the next year, and includes a US$617,000 contribution to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to increase access to Covid-19 therapeutics in the wider Pacific, with accompanying technical support. For the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau - the package will also include access to Covid-19 oral antiviral medicines from New Zealand's domestic supply, and the requested provision of second Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine boosters.
During her visit, Minister Mahuta also signed a new Statement of Partnership agreement with Prime Minister Brown in his capacity as Foreign Minister. The Statement of Partnership, named 'Waka Hourua/Vaka Purua’ is testament to the enduring links that exist between the Cook Islands and Aotearoa New Zealand and elevates the relationship to a new level of expanded cooperation. Building on the 2001 Joint Centenary Declaration, Waka Houroa/Vaka Purua emphasises shared priority areas and common goals, such as addressing climate change and strengthening resilience, enhancing security, and ensuring a sustainable economic recovery from COVID-19.
Minister Mahuta also travelled to Manihiki accompanied by Prime Minister Brown, Deputy Prime Minister Robert Tapaitau and Member of Parliament for Manihiki Akaiti Puna. On Manihiki, Minister Mahuta pledged NZ$7.5 million towards the northern energy renewal upgrade program which will see renewable energy grids upgraded, support for ongoing maintenance, and provide financial stability for technology and electricity supplies.
Minister Mahuta confirmed Aotearoa New Zealand stood ready to support the upgrade of Manihiki Airport through the Cook Islands Infrastructure Trust Fund. The delegation to Manihiki included senior officials of both governments and local contractors scoping work planned for the airport upgrade.
“The impacts of climate change are global, and as we were able to show Minister Mahuta has hit our most vulnerable ocean communities the hardest,” said Prime Minister Brown. “Our people in the North are amongst the most resilient in the world and we will continue to work closely with them and alongside New Zealand and other partners to deliver local solutions that will ensure the security and prosperity of all our people.”
The offer of $200,000 towards the Cook Islands assumption of PIFL Chair responsibilities and hosting of the 2023 PIFL meeting has been welcomed by Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) Tepaeru Herrmann.
“Minister Mahuta’s visit afforded an opportunity to discuss regional priorities including the Cook Islands assumption of PIFL Chair responsibilities and hosting of the next meeting,” said Secretary Herrmann. “Just as we did when we hosted the PIFL meeting in 2012, the Cook Islands will be looking to lift ambition and effort in regional co-operation to support PIF members, including the Cook Islands, deal with unprecedented challenges confronting our Pacific people.”