Report – By Rachel Reeves in Rarotonga
Polynesian leaders are hoping to alleviate the burden of their geographical isolation by sharing the costs and benefits of a fibre optic telecommunications cable.
It was an issue that featured heavily in discussions of the Polynesian Leaders Group (PLG) meeting at the weekend, according to Prime Minister Henry Puna and Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi, who briefed media at the conclusion of their gathering.
“Right now we are facing a problem with the marine cable,” Tuilaepa said. “ICT (information and communication technology) is so important to our group, it is the only way that we’ll eliminate the isolation.”
“As of August 1 that has bankrupted so we are now moving to other alternatives like the connection of a marine cable between Fiji, Tonga and Samoa – [this is] one of the examples of the projects that are so important to the Polynesian Leaders Group which requires a more intensive focus in our discussion with our donor partners and other possible sources of funding,” Tuilaepa said.
A cable project would require a start-up cost of about $20 million and subsequent payments maintenance and servicing. The magnitude of the investment means discussion surrounding the project is likely to be lengthy and complex.
“The geographical proximity of the Polynesian island countries makes it sensible that they be working together on issues such as cabling (and) ICT,” Puna said.
“Virtually the cables run past other countries within the grouping, for example Niue is close to a cabling between Samoa and Tonga and of course the Cook Islands is also seriously looking at options for us to be connected to a cable.
Also high on the PLG priority list is renewable energy and a spate of related issues, not least of which is the fixing of prices offered by solar energy production companies and power distribution companies (which in the Pacific are often government-owned).
Tuilaepa stressed that the PLG covered areas outlined in the Pacific Plan, its ultimate goal to ensure its member countries are adhering to the principles of the document.
The PLG has no official secretariat. Its administrative work, which has thus far been carried out mostly by Tuilaepa’s office, was this weekend delegated to a “group of officials”.
It is being tasked with making recommendations to the PLG by the end of this week.
Rachel Reeves is political reporter of the Cook Islands News.