Pacific Media Watch

6 November 2015

COOK ISLANDS: Publisher George Pitt defends his refusal of police arrest

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Cook Islands Herald publisher George Pitt ... defies a High Court injunction. Image: Cook Islands News

Cameron Scott
RAROTONGA (Cook Islands News / Pacific Media Watch): Cook Islands Herald publisher George Pitt has taken to Cook Islands Television to air his views on constitutional expert Dr Alex Frame’s draft legal opinion on government spending.

His appearance follows a botched attempt by police to arrest him at his home on Monday afternoon.

Last week Pitt was ordered through a High Court injunction not to broadcast or publish the contents of the draft legal opinion, but subsequently spoke out on Matariki FM and Radio Cook Islands.

Police arrived at the publisher’s home on Monday afternoon to arrest Pitt. However, he refused to accompany them.

Pitt said he told the policemen: “I’m not going anywhere, I’m staying right here”.

“The Prime Minister and Minister Mark Brown have stood in Parliament and moralised about the government having nothing to hide. They’re behaving desperately because they don’t want the information (from the legal opinion) to get out”.

TV appearance
On Tuesday night, during a nine-minute tirade later posted on his Facebook page, he claimed that he was not in fact defying the injunction, but just doing his job.

“The media’s job is to report on government activities; good, bad or ugly. I’m not talking about the contents of the report, I’m just giving my opinion about it.” 

He claimed the Cook Islands Party (CIP) government was riddled with corruption.

“All they are doing is trying to find a way to gag the media so we can’t report this to the people. They have never done this before, it’s just since the Alex Frame opinion came out.

“They can tell people to ignore George Pitt because he is just stirring, but the Alex Frame opinion proves what I’ve been saying all along: government is corrupt.”

Secretary’s actions
Pitt saved a special broadside for the Crown Law Office and Financial Secretary Richard Neves, claiming he was incompetent and guilty of acting unlawfully.

He claimed Crown Law had given an edited version of the Frame report to Neves, when Neves was in fact the subject of an investigation into government overspending.

“He has interfered with Crown Law’s duties and he has no right.”

“It gets edited from 11 pages to seven or eight after he has had his way with it. It’s so wrong that he has to be consulted before any reports are produced, because these reports are about him.”

Another example of Neves’ interference was the Public Expenditure Review Committee’s (PERC) “Schoonergate” report which the Financial Secretary had been given and which he had then edited, Pitt said.

“Schoonergate” refers to a controversial contract the government had signed with Pacific Schooners, a Rarotonga-based boat building company earlier this year. 

“They (government) shouldn’t be trying to chase me, arrest me, because I will not shut up. But I will continue to defend the right of the media to tell people what government is doing”, Pitt said.

“All they are doing is showing how corrupt they are. The Alex Frame opinion will verify what I have been writing about and what the Demos (Democratic Party) want a judicial review about.”

Pitt’s challenge
Pitt also welcomed the government to “put the evidence, the legal opinion, on the table to prove that I am wrong.”

“They can’t send me to prison for standing up for my right to tell people how corrupt this government is.”

Cabinet Minister Mark Brown’s claim that Pitt’s copy of the Frame opinion had been stolen, showed what a “scatterbrain” this country had for a Finance Minister, Pitt said. 

“Richard Neves is leading these lunatics around the paddock like he is in charge.”

Pitt said that in his opinion, the people who should be going to jail were Prime Minister Henry Puna and his cabinet ministers.

He accused the government of spending appropriated money in a “dodgy, unlawful and illegal manner.”

“They should be charged, not me.”  

Pitt said no matter how many summons he received, he would not go to court over the matter.

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