Teenui-Mapumai member of Parliament Rose Brown has become the first woman in Cook Islands history to lead an opposition coalition.
Brown, 39, overtakes deputy opposition leader Tamaiva Tuavera who is also deputy leader of the Democratic Party.
Her nomination comes in the wake of the shock guilty verdict passed on MP Teina Bishop in the High Court last week.
Bishop was found guilty of corruption as a Minister of the Crown and will be sentenced in the High Court on August 25. Bishop had resigned as leader of the opposition last month.
Despite the huge setback Bishop’s absence will mean for the opposition coalition and talk that it will mean internal disarray and no leadership, MP Tuavera says they’re “stronger and more determined.”
Says Tuavera: “Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during these challenging times; our efforts to become government will continue without fear and we are delighted Mr Bishop has agreed to remain and support us, more so than ever.”
He disclosed that a joint caucus meeting last Wednesday everyone had agreed on the appointment of Rose Brown to take over the role as Parliamentary leader of the opposition. Tuavera says Brown accepted the nomination, “wholeheartedly.”
Brown, who is deputy Speaker, is a first term parliamentarian who, until now, has never held a leadership role in politics. Despite this, the opposition coalition says she will “…add value to the parliamentary opposition through her skills as a successful business woman, youth and community leader and her gender balanced approaches to local, national and international issues.”
Tuavera says the unanimous vote of confidence in Brown’s leadership is testament to the overall confidence placed in her as prime minister-in-waiting and was well received by everyone including Bishop who supported her appointment as the new leader.
Although Bishop’s political future is uncertain as this stage, Tuavera says the opposition coalition has also accepted his offer to continue the coalition relationship as he remains leader of One Cook Islands Islands.
He adds that OCI, which has just one other MP George Maggie, is “determined to become government under a government of national unity.”
The opposition coalition is calling on the government to declare the Vaipae Tautu seat vacant as sitting MP Moana Ioane was found guilty of bribery under the Electoral Act two years ago. There has been no obvious movement from Police to progress the Ioane case to the High Court. It has been reported that the Cook Islands Police Service has referred the case to Crown Law, presumably for advice on the appropriate charge to apply to Ioane. Critics say the lack of movement on the case is all politics: the government cannot afford to lose an MP and stalling the case is critical for a government that has no majority.
Tuavera echoes widespread sentiments when he says the Ioane case currently under police investigation “has not seen the light of day.”
“It is only fair that his case is dealt with accordingly so that the people of this country can be assured there is no political influence involved, as speculated by many.”
In the meantime, the opposition coalition will focus on a potential by-election in Bishops’ constituency of Are Nikau, Aitutaki.
Tuavera says they will not be discounting the possibility of more by-elections occurring in the near future.
Deputy prime minister Teariki Heather has also been under investigation by the Financial Intelligence Unit for alleged corruption. The FIU has not revealed the full scope of its investigation into Heather. PM Puna and Finance minister Mark Brown have also come under the scrutiny of the FIU for questionable dealings in government finances.
Tuavera says legal consideration is still in progress regarding the legitimacy of the sitting of Parliament on June 17 and 20.
“We are still actively involved in the purse seine select committee and a report is due in Parliament by the end of July”.
He says work will soon start on the Te Mato Vai select committee. SOURCE: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/PACNEWS [/restrict]