Revamping the Cook Islands Public Sector

Vaine Iriano Wichman

A 2001 report by AusAID and the New Zealand Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade marked the beginning of efforts by both Governments to increase their emphasis on aid harmonization in the Pacific. This was followed by a decision to pilot a cofunded program in Cook Islands which is the subject of this case study. The case is presented through the eyes of Garth Henderson, the senior Cook Islands official responsible for aid management. It describes how the Cook Islands government, through the aid harmonization process, and under Henderson’s leadership, enhanced its capacity for aid management while strengthening national ownership and forging a shared sense of direction by all stakeholders.

In 1996, the Government of the Cook Islands set about implementing sweeping economic and public sector reforms to shift the management attitude and style of the bureaucracy. The Government had established a reputation for complacency and supporting shady investment deals (e.g., the Vaimaanga Hotel). The new vision was based on a robust, private sector–led economy, with Government providing essential support services and infrastructure to facilitate private sector growth.

A comprehensive Economic Reform Program (ERP) was initiated to assist in bringing the country back on a growth path. With no cash in the bank, huge local and external debts (at the time estimated at NZ$127 million), the Government was staring at a 6-month cash-fl ow shortage and further serious deterioration in relations with international banks and donor partners. Leaders in the community and the private sector sat down with Government prior to the reform program being developed to map out a “pathway to recovery” plan. From a series of three retreats in 1996 and 1997, Cook Islanders consolidated a road map to pull them out of this economic crisis. The ERP package was based on a fi ve-point strategy that included (i) rightsizing the public sector; (ii) privatizing government functions and agencies that would operate better in the private sector; (iii) providing incentives to grow the private sector; (iv) curbing government spending and increasing revenue collection; and (v) rescheduling the time frame for repaying local and international debts.

This case focuses on the capacity development interventions under the rightsizing of the public service component of the ERP, which included:

  • a retrenchment program for displaced public servants;
  • training and skill upgrades to facilitate a shift toward either the reformed public sector, or the private sector;
  • retraining and outfitting the public servants who made it into the reformed public service regime (e.g., in output budgeting, legislative changes, management practices, and communication).

The activities undertaken under the banner of rightsizing not only reduced the size of the public service and increased the skill levels of remaining staff, but also contributed significantly to a change in the management culture in Government.

Year of publication: 
ADB Capacity Development in the Pacific
Themes and sectors: 
Public administration
Case story length: 
40 pages

The above is a summary or extract from the original source material. For the complete case story, please see the address given above.