After weeks of inaction, the project to build a new House of Assembly for the island’s lawmakers is finally back on track.
At a short ceremony this morning at Halamahaga, a small group consisting of Ministers, members of the assembly, government officials and the press, were there to witness the blessing of the site and to see the unveiling of the plaque. Premier Sir Toke Talagi delivered a brief address to thank those involved with the project.
“As you all know our Fale Fono was damaged by Cyclone Heta some time ago, so we need new premises, not only for us to use now but for future generations as well,” Premier Talagi said.
The Premier went on to thank the NZ company DTB Construction for agreeing to be contractors for the project.
Sir Toke acknowledged that the project is being funded under New Zealand assistance but expressed his disappointment that the NZ High Commissioner was not present. The High Commissioner is currently in New Zealand. [The Acting High Commissioner had no knowledge of the ceremony this morning].
The project to build the new house of assembly has not been without controversy, even at this early stage. Long-serving member of the Assembly Terry Coe had sought a court injunction to stop the work. Coe had cited several reasons for his action, among which was his claim that government action in awarding the contract without tendering had denied an opportunity for local companies to compete.
The island’s Chief Justice, Justice Coxhead dismissed the application because the Court lacked jurisdiction to grant an injunction against the Crown, citing section 17 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1950.
In addition to Mr Coe’s court action, land-owners had also challenged the right of the government to continue occupying the land after the closure of Halamahaga Primary School. It is understood that part of the land is leasehold and part is Crown land. Where the new house of assembly (Fale Fono) is to be built is said to be Crown Land. It’s difficult to conclude otherwise, following this morning’s ceremony.
Meantime the government project management unit set up specifically to monitor government projects had to vacate in haste the premises they were using at the old primary school, following threats of harm from one of the landowners claiming title to the land.
At the ceremony this morning at Halamahaga, the Niue Police were very much visible, but there were no incidents from landowners.
DTB Construction lost no time in getting down to work. By the afternoon, the builders were at work.
When the island became self-governing in 1974, the newly formed Niue Government, in a gesture of goodwill decided to gift the Residency – the land and home – to New Zealand. The land where the Residency was located is called Tapeu; its location is on the upper-terrace to the south of Alofi , just above Tufukia School and Lord Liverpool Hospital. The original residence, where the early Resident Commissioners resided, was located in the middle of Alofi in the approximate area where the Commercial Centre is now located. The residence at Tapeu was built in the early 1950s.
When Niue announced that it was giving Tapeu to New Zealand, the New Zealand Government reciprocated by announcing that it will build a brand new Fale Fono for the island. Over the years the Fale Fono had withstood a number of cyclones but it finally met its match in Cyclone Heta in 2004. Since then, although it has been patched up to make it a bit more habitable, it was only a question of time before a replacement could be built. Some donors had shown interest in helping to build new premises but these proved to be no more than that.
For the majority of local people who value the long and historical relationship with New Zealand, given the growing influence and interest of certain donors, there was almost an audible sigh of relief when it became clear that the folks in Wellington were prepared to help. Somehow, Winston would have liked that.