We begin this round-up with a brief summary of the proceedings at the latest sitting of the Niue Assembly, which is somewhat blotchy; it seems that the brand new audio system for the Fale Fono is still facing some technical problems. The morning session was almost inaudible. In the afternoon session, only a handful of members could be heard. In the closing prayer – which came over the air loud and clear – it would have not been out of place to plead for some divine intervention to fix the Fale Fono’s problematical audio system.
Was it a Letter or a Report?
The Speaker tabled a communication from Audit NZ, the government auditors, advising the Assembly on the reasons why the audit report of the government accounts are always late. We use the term ‘communication’ because there was some debate on whether this was a report from the auditors or a letter. Why this is important, apparently is that if it’s a report it can discussed by the Assembly, whereas a letter can be tabled but without discussion.
In between the interruptions to the radio coverage, there was enough information from the debate to indicate that the problem with the late audit report, according to some members, may well require a change in the law or even the Constitution.
Government accounts are required by law to be audited and a report tabled in the Assembly. But for an audit report to be of any use, it needs to be tabled as quickly as possible at the end of the financial year. Government agencies can then rectify the shortcomings identified in the report. For the most part, none of the audit reports have made it back to the House on time. The current crop of auditors from Audit NZ have suggested a solution hence the letter-report to the Speaker. If the contents of the letter-report was revealed at the sitting, it must have been at a time when there was no broadcast so we don’t know what it says.
One interesting part of the debate was when the Premier who is also the Minister of Finance told the Assembly that his government is considering engaging the services of another set of auditors to vet the recommendations of the Government appointed auditors.
No Cruise Ships on Sundays
Common Roll member Stan Kalauni introduced a motion to stop any cruise ship calling to the island on a Sunday. The motion received overwhelming support of those members who contributed to the debate. Some members went further and suggested that the ban on Sunday work should also extend to cargo ships.
It was evident at the beginning of the debate that not many members know the history of banning Sunday work on any ship calling on the island. The ban can be traced back to a time when the LMS Church, under the leadership of the Rev Caleb Beharell, did not support the call by the NZ Administrator, Resident Commissioner Hector Larsen to get the bananas shipped, even on a Sunday. The rules have since been relaxed to allow the monthly cargo ship to be unloaded under special circumstances. According to some members, the shipping company appears to be taking advantage of the special circumstances and are deliberately scheduling a ship to call on a Saturday knowing full well that the cargo cannot be unloaded in one day.
It was not made clear in the debate who gave permission for the passenger liners to make a Sunday call but it was equally clear that it must have been someone in government.
One dissenting voice in the debate was that of Common Roll member Terry Coe who said that it was time to make some changes if it is going to benefit the island economically. The motion was carried almost unanimously – no passenger liner to call on a Sunday. Like all motions introduced and passed in the House, the cabinet is not obliged to take any action.
A Departure From the Normal Procedure
The Assembly spent a significant amount of time debating the flag raising ceremony to mark the 44th year of self-government. The Premier Sir Toke Talagi told the House that this year, there is to be a departure from the usual practice of hoisting both the NZ flag and that of Niue; this year, only the Niue flag is to be raised. “This is Niue’s day”, he told members, “not New Zealand’s.” Furthermore only the Premier will be delivering an address. The usual courtesy extended to the NZ High Commissioner to also deliver an address on behalf of the NZ government has been withdrawn.
Some members were quick to point out that raising the NZ Flag and the Niue Flag, as well as allowing an opportunity for the representative of NZ government to speak, is not only a long standing arrangement – 43 years in fact – but more importantly, it is a reflection of the partnership between the two countries. While most members accepted that the Constitution celebrations is a day for Niue, New Zealand should not be left out altogether. Some have suggested that if the ceremonial raising of the NZ flag and the national anthem is to be no longer included, then the NZ flag should nevertheless still be flown but without ceremony.
The withdrawal of the invitation to the New Zealand High Commissioner to speak will be viewed with regret by some; it is the only opportunity for the New Zealand government to relay its message directly to the people of Niue.
A major event during Constitution Celebrations this year is the official opening of the cultural centre and museum. On Friday 19th October, the official Constitution day, there is to be the normal flag raising at the Fale Fono but the Premier’s address to the nation will be delivered at the opening of the Taoga building.
44th Year Celebrations Under Way
The celebrations to mark the island’s 44th year of self-government has started in the weekend with the Health Department’s early morning walk for life on Friday morning.
Then on Saturday, under clear tropical skies – the first after days of strong winds – Avatele held its marine day, a prelude to their village fair this coming Saturday. Over 30 vaka participated in the fishing contest but only 6 entries for the boats.
Top prize for canoes went to Poi Okesene for a 25kg dog-tooth tuna and Tuli Heka came second with a 14kg yellow fin. Tupotu took out the top prize for the boats with a 13kg Wahoo. Dallas Ioane came in second with a 7.9kg Wahoo.
Next event on the 44th Constitution Celebrations calendar will be the Avatele Village Show day on Saturday 13th.