Cook IslandsCook Islands
Cook Islands' miniscule country will be the first of the Pacific Islands to achieve "developed" stature, which some civil servants call "worst case scenario". About 99. 99% of the Cook's land consists of the sea, with its 15 islands, which extend over an area of almost 2mqkm.
While the Cook Islands have a free association with New Zealand, i.e. they are self-governing, their inhabitants are eligible for New Zealand nationality, receiving NZ$25 million (£13.5 million) in assistance per year and sharing shared-value. Over the last ten years, the Cook Islands have made significant advances in financial independence, with the Asian Development Bank experiencing six years of six years of rapid-five years.
Over 150,000 visitors came to the islands last year, which have been drawn by government-subsidised air fares, and the state has also generated higher revenues through better fishing industry governance. As a result of this advance, the small nation has qualified to move from "developing" to "developed" state, but the regime does not celebrate.
The Minister of State Tepaeru Herrmann said the switch of state was worrying. "We, as a goverment, have chosen to be prepared for next year's worst-case scenario," she said. About half of the Cook Islands' inhabitants live on the principal Rarotonga islands, with the remainder spread over a wide area.
"Several of these islands, their contacts with the outside can be every two to three month when the vessel arrives to deliver provisions, that is the other side of the Cook Islands, which the OECD and the outside worlds do not see," Herrmann said.
Treasury Secretary Mark Brown said the message that the Cook Islands were on the threshold of advanced development had encountered a mismatched reaction from the island' s inhabitants, some of whom celebrated the remarkable performance, but many were worried about the impact the new statute would have on the country' s capacity to receive assistance.
Mr Brown said the amendment indicated that it was likely that his own state would no longer be considered for UN financing and that there were already ongoing negotiations with key local contributors such as Australia and New Zealand to discuss what further assistance they could do. Mr Herrmann said the preliminary negotiations with the New Zealand authorities have been successful so far, and she did not anticipate any cutbacks in the near-term.
"Though we are now regarded as a wealthy country, the per head costs for primary infrastructures such as airports, harbours, health care and educational institutions are very high, but we have to multiply these efforts on all these islands, although some of them have small populations," Brown said. In my opinion, the Cook Islands look very similar to 34 years ago.
While the Cook Islands would not be formally proclaimed a developing nation until late 2018, Hermann said the administration had started to reach bi-lateral partner countries around the globe to build mutually beneficial rather than aid-dependent alliances. "With my eye, the Cook Islands look very similar to 34 years ago, and that's probably not what would normally be considered developed," says Hermann.
In 1901, the Cook Islands became a New Zealand settlement, but after an urge for self-determination in the 1960', it was self-governed in 1965 in free associations with New Zealand. Over 60,000 Cook Islanders are living in New Zealand - there are only 21,000 left in the state.