Copra Cutters are about to exhaust their patience over the delay in their copra money
The highly praised move of the new government headed by President Taneti Maamau to raise the copra price to $2 per kilo, about twice the world price, runs the risk of a backlash as more and more copra cutters add to the numbers of people calling out to Government “Where is our copra money, we have not been paid for our last weigh-in last week and here we are ready to weigh-in our copra again this week”.
As the queue gets longer the greater is the outcry, the greater is the nervousness and the tension among the political leaders at this critical time. Why has this happened in the early term of the new government that was elected only seven months ago? The answer seems to have something to do with the inadequacy in the capacity of the copra staff and facilities to cope with the sudden jump in copra production rate driven by the high lucrative price. The staff in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism as well as those supervising copra weighing on the outer islands are not quite ready for such sudden and huge influx of production accompanied by huge amounts of money to be paid out over a very short period of time. In other words, the staff are not ready for an intense traffic almost resulting in a “a copra traffic jam”. The demands of the stringent accounting standards that are necessary for the proper disbursement and custody of huge amounts of public funds involved in the copra industry are becoming more and more difficult to comply with on the part of copra supervisors on the outer islands. “We just don’t have the speed and the tools to cope with such load” comments one of the supervisors who is increasingly nervous about the increasing outcry from copra cutters over the delay in the payment of their copra money. The Minister of Finance, Hon. Dr Teuea Toatu, who really wants to tighten up the accounting and book keeping rules to avoid or minimize loss of copra money so as to try and reverse the sad trends in the past, is now under pressure from his own ministerial colleagues calling for a less stringent approach in order to lessen the noise from copra cutters. Adding to the problem of inadequate human capacity, the inadequate copra shed space worsened by the lack of shipping to clear out copra sheds on a regular basis poses another big challenge for the new government. A budget of $1m a month for the copra is not enough for copra cutters, they need about $1.5m per month. The annual budget for copra cutters for this year is $18m.