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WikiLeak: Cook Islands High Commissioner sacked for plotting

WikiLeaks cable: Cook Islands High Commissioner sacked for plotting

March 22, 2006 Cook Islands High Commissioner sacked for plotting

date:2006-03-22T19:29:00 source:Embassy Wellington origin:06WELLINGTON221 destination:VZCZCXYZ0000 RR RUEHWEB DE RUEHWL #0221/01 0811929 ZNY CCCCC ZZH R 221929Z MAR 06 FM AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2551 INFO RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 4345 RUEHSV/AMEMBASSY SUVA 0453 RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI classification:CONFIDENTIAL reference:04WELLINGTON1066 ?C O N F I D E N T I A L WELLINGTON 000221

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/ANP DRICCI PACOM FOR JO1E/J2/J233/J5/SJFHQ

E.O. 12958: DECL... ?C O N F I D E N T I A L WELLINGTON 000221

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/ANP DRICCI PACOM FOR JO1E/J2/J233/J5/SJFHQ

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/21/2016 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PBIO, NZ SUBJECT: COOK ISLANDS HIGH COMMISSIONER SACKED FOR PLOTTING

REF: 04 WELLINGTON 1066

Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission David Burnett, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

Summary ------- 1. (SBU) On March 3, citing involvement in a plot to topple him from Government, Cook Islands Prime Minister Jim Marurai sacked Dr. Robert Woonton as High Commissioner to New Zealand. Marurai succeeded Woonton as Prime Minister in December 2004, and Woonton became High Commissioner as a political accommodation. While Marurai's government has averted a test of its confidence for now, a new threat is likely to emerge in July, when Parliament must convene to approve a new budget. End Summary

WQnton Sacked for Plotting to Topple Government --------------------------------------------- --- 2. (SBU) On March 3, Cook Islands Prime Minster Jim Marurai dismissed Dr. Robert Woonton as High Commissioner to New Zealand. Marurai told Radio New Zealand that Woonton, ousted Minister of Cultural Development Piho Rua, and Wellington-based property developer Tim Tepaki had attempted to bring down Marurai's Cook Islands First Party (CIFP)-led coalition government. Meanwhile, opposition leader Sir Geoffrey Henry claimed on March 2 that his Cook Islands Party (CIP) had the support of thirteen seats in the twenty-four member Cook Islands Parliament, as the result of the defection of two MPs from the governing coalition: Rua (an independent) and Upoko Simpson (CIFP). In 2005, Marurai had dumped Rua as Minister of Cultural Development and Tourism. Developer Tepaki is generally believed to favor CIP.

3. (C) At a March 3 press conference confirming the decision to sack Woonton, Foreign Minister (and CIP member) Wilkie Rasmussen explained, "In taking this decision, the Government of the Cook Islands believes that Dr. Woonton has not acted in the best interest of the Cook Islands, and as such no longer enjoys the confidence of Cabinet to continue in the capacity of Cook Islands High Commissioner to New Zealand." He continued, "The very nature of this appointment necessitates a position of political neutrality in both New Zealand and the Cook Islands." According to First Secretary Sonya Kamana (protect) at the Cook Islands High Commission, Woonton told her he had not done anything improper. However, Kamana confided to Poloff that Woonton should not have been as involved in politics as he was.

Instability represents more of the same --------------------------------------- 4. (U) While the sacking of Woonton has been characterized by the government and media as a "failed coup," the event is just the most recent sign of instability extending as far back as the June 1999 elections. Since becoming self-governing in 1965, there have been nine Cooks Prime Ministers: four of these since the Democrats came to power in 1999.

5. (SBU) Following September 2004 elections (see reftel), a series of petitions delayed a final outcome for three months, including one concerning then Prime Minster Woonton's narrow majority. After a recount, the high court ordered a by-election, and Woonton had to step down from office as Prime Minister. He was subsequently named High Commissioner to New Zealand after he declined to stand in the February 2005 by-election. After the election, the four-member Demo Tumu Party (now renamed Cook Islands First) joined independent Piho Rua and the CIP in an unstable parliamentary majority. Under the coalition arrangement, Jim Marurai became prime minister and the leader of CIP, Henry, was slated to take over the remaining two years.

6. (U) In September 2005, Marurai nullified the coalition with CIP after having ousted Henry and two other CIP ministers: Tom Marsters (Foreign Affairs) and Tupou Faireka (Justice). Although CIP moved into opposition, two CIP members remain as ministers in Government, Rasmussen (Foreign Affairs) and Teina Bishop (Outer Islands). Replacing Henry as Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Terepai Maoate is the sole representative of the Democratic Party in Cabinet.

What's Next? ------------ 7. (U) FM Rasmussen said that there would be no repeat of the situation a couple of years ago when it took twelve months for the Woonton Government to appoint Sir Tom Davis as High Commissioner to New Zealand. In the meantime, First Secretary Sonya Kamana will serve as acting commissioner.

8. (C) Kamana confirmed to Poloff that Woonton intended to remain in New Zealand. However, Dr. Woonton, who was given three weeks to vacate his office, has since returned to the Cook Islands. Kamana claims Woonton, a pathologist, had gone to assist in a nine-year old murder case for which there was new evidence. (Woonton was previously associated with case.)

9. (U) On March 11, Marurai announced that the Parliament would not convene until June. The PM preempted critics by saying that his reasons were not political but operational. There are no bills presently before Parliament and the budget has not yet been completed. Critics suggest that by holding off on convening Parliament, Marurai is seeking to duck a "no confidence" motion against his Government. Parliament is not required to sit until July 1, when it must convene to approve the new budget.

New Zealand MPs drop in ----------------------- 10. (C) In March, four MPs from the New Zealand Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Select Committee made a trip to the Cook Islands, where the members advised Cook Islands' Cabinet, other MPs and the heads of ministries on good governance and accountability with public money. The members included chair Shane Jones (Labour), Hone Harawira (Maori Party), Murray McCully (National, former chair) and Doug Woolerton (New Zealand First). Murray McCully said that the trip was a "serious undertaking" as some ministries, for example, had not filed "annual reports for a few years." McCully told Poloff that he has made eight or nine trips to the Cook Islands over the years, and is well-acquainted with the players. He said that there is an ongoing challenge between the older and younger members for leadership in the Cook Islands political parties. He told Poloff that, even though Marurai claimed to be confident he would remain Prime Minister, McCully "would not be surprised if there were a change in government." McCormick

ENDS


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