Small Islands Voice Global Forum
Cook Islands: untapped paradise?
The article by Ron Crocombe on foreign investment in the Cook Islands attracted responses from islanders in the Pacific, Indian Ocean and Caribbean. Here is a selection of some of the responses; more will follow in later messages.
Dorice Reid from the Cook Islands writes that the article was excellent; however, the hotel project in Rarotonga mentioned at the beginning of the article was actually started by the Government of the Cook Islands, not foreign investors.
From the Caribbean, Indrani Lutchman totally agrees with the tone of Ron Crocombe's article and the intent. I live in Barbados and had the pleasure to go to Rarotonga last year. What I loved most about Rarotonga had nothing to do with big hotels, flashy transport and restaurants, or foreign investment. Instead the things I loved the most and enjoyed had to do with the local communities and what the islands naturally have to offer, in their own style, not modified to a western or developed standard. The Caribbean has experienced some of the impact of foreign investment described in Crocombeís article, and Rarotongans could learn from this. I am not saying that all foreign investment is bad, but in the small island context, the benefits to the local economies (not just financial) and the impacts on our environment and ecosystems, need to be taken into account as major factors before foreign investors are given the green light.
There are enough stereotype large resorts which are all inclusive, and also very exclusive, in almost every corner of small islands around the world. I think that we need to take more action to preserve what local, natural resources we have before we bring in the big operators whose interest inevitably is self-interest. Keep Rarotonga the way it is, developing naturally, as fits in with the local needs and desires.
Lennart Davidsson, from Bonaire, also in the Caribbean, feels that governments have too much power to negotiate away property and permits. It's almost so it feels that you should go back to the old days when you had a group of wise old men who decided the important things like selling out your island. Governments are seen as having products to sell, however, they do not have much experience in negotiating deals. Investors, on the other hand, have this experience, and get their money back multiplied many times.
A contrasting view comes from Shailesh in Fiji. I have heaps of friends from the Cook Islands at the University of the South Pacific. They don't seem to be complaining; in fact they canít wait to complete their studies and go home and work. I understand they are paid good New Zealand money as salaries. So what is the problem?
It seems to me that most Pacific Island countries need to provide incentives to attract foreign investment. Itís just how you look at it; think long term and more investment results in more accommodation facilities and more jobs for locals.
The problem in the Cook Islands is how to keep skilled people at home, and itís the same in most Pacific Island countries. Better salary and benefits in Australia and New Zealand will always take away all the cream from our work force. Why do you think these students get scholarships in the first place?
Cook Islands to me is paradise, untapped at this stage, tourism numbers are growing, but you don't want them to grow to such a level where more tourists are seen than locals, we don't need another Hawaii in the Pacific. And politics is a problem in all the Pacific Island countries, after all these are the best paid jobs.
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