Public servants, pensioners and medal winners from the most recent South Pacific Games will have good reason to remember the 45th anniversary of self-government. At the official ceremony to mark the occasion, a frail but determined Premier Sir Toke Talagi told the gathering that, if people are honest, they were not there to hear a long statement on policies and achievements.
What people really wanted to hear, he said, is how much money the government will give to help in their daily lives! Quite a lot as it turned out.
All 4-day a week government employee will receive an extra $30 per pay packet; all 5-day a week employees, such as teachers, will receive an extra $35 per fortnight and all pensioners can expect another $40 a fortnight. There was no indication as to when these new rates will apply. Premier Talagi explained that the funding for the increases will come from Niue’s own coffers. Sir Toke made reference to $6m that his administration has raised or accumulated but gave no details.
In a gesture that has left his political opponents scratching their heads Premier Talagi also gave a cash payment to all athletes who won medals at the most recent Pacific Games held in Apia – all were from Niue Lawn Bowls. No doubt the rewards will not only help to boost the number of bowlers but might inspire the golfers who have yet to come home with a medal.
The Premier’s brief address to the nation has left a few people wondering where the country is heading in the next few months. There was some expectation that after a period of absence from official functions that Sir Toke will deliver more substantive address at the Constitution Celebrations. Apart from a greeting for expat Niueans and urging them to return and help build the island, that was it, that was the extent of the official Constitution Celebrations address to the nation.
The Premier is suffering from ill health – the evidence was there for all to see and to hear at the Celebrations, but there will be some who say that his performance at the Celebrations was a masterstroke. He knew he had a very limited window to make his presence felt and proceeded to do just that.
If opposition parliamentarians and others were expecting that the Premier would bow out gracefully and voluntarily, then they were in for a huge disappointment. He may be in a wheelchair and his voice may be somewhat shaky, but his grip on the fohe (paddle) is still strong. The task of toppling the Knight of the Realm and his team has become even harder.