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A Mixed Bag

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Once every three years the tranquillity of atoll life is thrown into turmoil – where promises are made and sealed with a handshake, where old alliances are renewed and new ones are forged, where casual acquaintances become firm friends, where differences are conveniently set aside and a distant relative becomes a close brother or a sister. Is this some ancient ritual in atoll bonding? Well no, it’s only the General Elections. The turmoil, though hidden from the public eye, is real.

Political campaigning has traditionally been relatively tame and is normally confined to candidates handing out their pamphlets and meeting electors on a one on one basis. So it’s a rare treat when there is an opportunity to hear candidates speaking at an organised gathering.

On Monday this week, the USP students of the MBA programme and graduates of the University organised a Q & A session for some candidates on the Common Roll. Thirteen candidates were able to accept the invitation: Ida Hekesi, Ricahrd Hipa, Catherine Papani, Togia Sioneholo, Young Vivan, Mark Blumsky, Fiafia Rex, Kenneth Green, O’love Jacobsen, Stanley Kalauni, Sauni Togatule, Terry Coe and Deve Talagi.

Candidates were asked to select their top three priorities and present these to the audience. Questions were then asked based on those priorities. The more experienced candidates spend little time on the usual preliminaries and launched straight into their presentation. Some felt it was important to establish their credentials and chose to present their curriculum vitae. There were some who stuck to the format and fielded a few probing questions from the floor.  

Of the two younger candidates – both are standing for the first time – performed reasonably well. What Fiafia Rex lacked in clarity due to an overload of information was more than compensated by her energy, enthusiasm and commitment.  These are qualities that are sometimes lacking in our political aspirants. Kenneth Nifi Green’s proposal for interest free loans for young house builders was received well; not quite sure about his call to reserve two common roll seats for under 40 year olds.

As to be expected from a former Director of Tourism and chair of the Chamber of Commerce, Ida Hekesi is all for promoting the private sector. Working from home using IT was floated but no significant input from the audience.

After several years as the island’s top public servant Richard Hipa has acquired the ability to speak with confidence in public. His background as a former director of Niue Telecom meant a business bias in his approach. 

Catherine Papani is standing on the common roll for the second time. Her ability to enunciate her policies clearly went down well with the audience. Her message – one of them anyway – to place the country’s financial system under close scrutiny was well accepted by the attendants.

Togia Sioneholo self-named ‘the come-back kid’ a reference to the difficulty former politicians have in being re-elected. He is hoping to break that barrier. Clear cut policies on education and the younger generation with a special plea for a purpose built premises for the Judiciary.

When veteran politician Young Vivian makes an appearance it’s almost guaranteed that he will make an impression…and so he did.He maybe a little short on policies but his call to use Covid 19 for a re-set received some knowing nods from the audience.

Having been exposed to the cut and thrust of New Zealand politics, Mark Blumsky knew he had limited time and immediately cut to the thrust. His business model for a partnership between the public and private sector needs more discussion.

Long serving politician Tauveve Jacobsen had a clear message for Wellington and for the diaspora.  For Wellington – NZ has fallen short of the constitutional arrangement to provide ‘necessary assistance’ for Niue. For the diaspora, come on home – all is forgiven.

Address the financial situation; give the Health Department the assistance it needs not only to fight Covid 19 but for general health care, more renewable energy and a stock-take of tourism. All good stuff from Stanley Kalauni.

Sauni Togatule pushed for a superannuation scheme for those who don’t have it. Culturally he reckoned that we all need to know who we are if we’re to make any headway of where we’re going.

Another long serving politician Terry Coe had a long list of things he would like to do but what the audience is likely to remember is his call to put a stop to the construction of the new Assembly building, calling it a disgraceful square concrete box with no design input from the people.

Deve Talagi elected to start by giving a resume of his long career in the public service before focusing on education, infrastructure and economic development.

It has to be said that the evening was a resounding success because for the first time in a long time candidates were able to bring to life the sometimes cryptic messages on their brochures.  For the audience, they now have a lot more information before making their selection.

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