PM Ardern in her Second home
New Zealand Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern arrived on the island on Monday morning to be greeted by a traditional challenge by a selected group of students from Niue High School. These same students are heading off to New Zealand for the Polyfest Festival in Auckland later in the week.
For PM Ardern this is something of a family reunion – for the first time in a long time, all members of her family, her father and mother and her sister are together here on the island. The PM’s father Mr Ross Ardern is the NZ High Commissioner to Niue.
The mood at the airport when the Prime Minister arrived was friendly and to some extend informal; at one point, when the Prime Minister was perhaps lingering just a little too long while greeting her mother and sister the High Commissioner stepped in and exercised his fatherly authority.
In a short ceremony at the airport, the Prime Minister’s delegation, which included Deputy Prime Minister Rt Hon Winston Peters, cabinet ministers and members of parliament, was officially welcomed by Premier Sir Toke Talagi.
$6 Million assistance
Following the usual bilateral talks Prime Minister Ardern announced that her government is supporting Niue’s effort to wean itself from expensive fossil fuel to renewable energy. Although New Zealand has announced its support already, it has now committed a further $5 million towards the project for more solar panels, storage batteries and in equipment to stabilize the grid. The island is hoping that by 2025 some 80% of the island’s electricity will be from solar energy. The Prime Minister also announced that $750,000 will be provided for roading and for water, both have had their fair share of criticism in recent weeks.
Joint Press conference
At the joint press conference where the Prime Minister announced the package of assistance for Niue, she acknowledged the special relationship between the two countries and added that her government will do what it can to support Niue with those projects that can enhance economic returns.
The issue of a declining population surfaced at one point; Premier Talagi was quick to seize the opportunity to point out that the population has stabilised and showing signs of increasing. He attributed this to his government’s policy of paying decent salaries, providing good housing and good education.
Premier Talagi is looking for more commercial investment for one of his projects, that of selling bottled water. His ultimate goal he said is for the island to generate enough income from such investments to meet the government’s operational budget, some $20 million to $24 million per annum.
In an exclusive interview with TV Niue, Prime Minister was full of praise when it comes to the number of women serving in the Niue Assembly. What is not so well known is the fact that Niue has the highest percentage of representation by women anywhere in the islands. With 5 women in the Assembly, this is a 25% representation.
In response to a question on the increasing presence of the Chinese in the region and more so with regard to their impending arrival in December to work on a good part of the island’s roads, Prime Minister Ardern said that if some sources are prepared to invest directly in the island’s infrastructure then that is a matter for Niue and the donor to decide. “All we can do”, she said, “is to play our part because of our special relationship”.
While the Prime Minister’s visit provided an opportunity for the island’s hoi polloi to rub shoulders with her, she found time to spend with the younger generation. She and some of her party were able to spend time at the two schools, Niue High School and Niue Primary School where pupils were given an opportunity to pose questions.