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RAROTONGA,24 DECEMBER 2019 —Amendments to the governing structures of the Cook Island’s State-Owned Enterprises have been modernized after a long-awaited update.

Amendments to the Cook Islands Corporation Bill 1998, the Bank of the Cook Islands Act 2003, Ports Authority Act 1994-1995 and TeAponga Uira o Tumu TeVarovaro Act 1991 passed all three readings in Parliament last Tuesday, with an overall majority.

Established at different times, the old laws were regarded as inconsistent in governance procedures and processes and lacking in different areas.

Both Government and Opposition hope the amendments will help set a firm foundation for the governance of State-Owned Enterprises and in turn make them more effective for the benefit of the economy.

Said Finance minister Mark Brown: “It’s basically standardizing board memberships with the directors around the board so all the State-Owned Enterprises will have the same criteria for qualification for directors, remuneration for directors. We are also trying to create career paths for people who would like to be considered as directors.”

Speaking at Parliament’s final sitting in Arorangi, Opposition MP Vaitoti Tupa welcomed the amendments.

“What I can see in these five bills is that they are trying to correct issues that have not been addressed.

“For example, the establishment of these boards and how many years they can stay on,” he said.

Changes will include an increase of sitting board members to more than three, the maximum amount of sitting years for successive members and a reduction to age requirements, to name a few.

Opposition MP Agnes Armstrong said the new standards and criteria were clear and the age reduction “cut out the boy’s and girl’s syndrome of the past,” ensuring the right people were suitable for the roles.

“Involving our younger and upcoming business people is also a great incentive for this generation to become involved in having a say with new ideas, innovative ways in the way forward.”

She said she hoped the new changes would see more candidates from the pa enua.

“We do have some good people are out there and as we strive to work collectively for the betterment of all our people, then why not?”

But her colleague Selina Napa was less impressed. Napa questioned whether the maximum number of members to a board would exceed that of sitting members in parliament; whether the selection process would prioritize candidates from New Zealand and Australia. She also said the 12-year maximum sitting term was too long and the process by which candidates could apply was not clear.

“What we were told is that we have to ‘shoulder tap’ candidates. So if it based on this idea that we shoulder tap or ‘scratch their backs’, how can we get a good collective of people on this database?”

Brown said the new amendments were based on international standards on best practice.

“We’ve seen some of our boards that operate with three members and how demanding the pressure has been on a small pool, as opposed to a board with a larger membership which is shown to operate a bit more effectively.”

“What we are wanting to do is put more experience on the board by having more members on (them), but also ensuring that there is more consensus-building on major decisions across a greater number of directors rather than being concentrated on a few people.”

The new amendments are seen to be timely as the Cook Islands approach graduation to “developed” status. The bills will now be referred to the Queen’s Representative, Sir Tom Marsters and are expected to come into law by the end of the week….(PACNEWS)