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Cook Islands parliamentary farce

Cook Islands solicitor general Graham Leung has denied advising Prime Minister Mark Brown on lifting the suspension on cabinet minister Robert Tapaitau.

Tapaitau is back in office after being suspended for seven months for allegations of fraud just months before the general elections – allegations for which he is to face court later.

Mr Brown had said the decision was made after advice from the Crown Law Office.

“In light of Tapaitau’s court hearing not expected until next year 2023 and after taking advice from the Crown Law office, and after discussing this matter with cabinet colleagues, I have decided that we cannot leave someone suspended indefinitely, he needs to get back to work,” said Mr Brown.

“Given the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and knowing that Tapaitau will be defending his charges very vigorously in court, it is totally unreasonable to have him in sit in a state of limbo, when I can put him back to work.”

Robert Tapaitau (blue shirt seated) has had his suspension lifted. Picture: Facebook

Mr Leung has denied giving the advice, according to the Cook Islands News.

Tapaitau was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure when charges were laid. Tapaitau and senior staff members of the Cooks Islands civil service are alleged to have embezzled close to thousands of dollars of taxpayer’s money.

The suspension was revoked by the Queen’s Representative, Sir Tom Marsters. He is the equivalent of the Governor-General.

He acted on the advice of the Prime Minister and revoked the suspension of Tapaiatu.

Robert Tapaitau at the Cook Islands Auditorium. Picture: Facebook

Tapaitau will resume his duties as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister responsible for Transport, Marine Resources, Energy and Outer Island Projects.

Tapaitau’s charges deal with him being the minister responsible for Infrastructure Cook Islands and the National Environment Services.

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Tapaitau came into politics in 2018 when he won the seat for Penrhyn as an independent candidate. After the ruling, Cook Islands Party and the Democratic Party were at a stalemate. Tapaitau’s siding with CIP ensured that Mr Brown and his party had another four years in office.

Tapaitau is still favoured to take out the seat for the island of Penrhyn in the general elections this year.

Robert Tapaitau. Picture: Facebook

This decision has not gone down well with the opposition, with calls made for the Prime Minister to clarify if he had taken the advice from the Crown Law Office, which the Solicitor General was denying.

They have called on the government to consider this decision and have labelled it as abuse of power.

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