Press Releases

Tuesday 19 March 2019



The Public Service Commissioner, Russell Thomas is pleased to announce the appointment of Nga Puna as the new Director for the National Environment Service (NES).  Puna will replace the retiring Joe Brider who had been in this position since 2015 and who has left to pursue his other interests.    As Brider did not want to extend his contract for another term, the Office of the Public Service Commissioner led the recruitment process and Puna was one of the names shortlisted to Cabinet for the position.

Apart from being highly qualified and skilled in the Cook Islands Government processes, he is fluent in both English and Cook Islands Maori. It is envisaged that Puna will extend the full delivery of the Environment Service to the Pa Enua to reach those Islands without full Environment Authority setup.

Puna has previously worked as a Policy Advisor for Infrastructure Cook Islands and the Office of the Prime Minister.  He also served as the Principal of Vaitau Primary School in Aitutaki and the Head of the Mathematics Faculty at Tereora College.  Puna who has the necessary management skills, will be fully supported by the technical expertise available in the Service.  He has a Masters in Business Administration from USP and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Auckland majoring in Employment Relations and Organizational Management.

Puna’s visionary stance to future-proof our environment frameworks including an outdated 2003 NES Act and to reach out to all Pa Enua to fulfill its purpose as a National Agency – gave him a clear point of  difference in the recruitment process and is what NES needs right now. With all the infrastructure developments happening at such an incredible rate that our infrastructure and laws are not able to keep up – this requires a team player, a person with great communication skills and a passionate Cook Islander like Puna to lead this important

Tuesday 27 November 2018



The Public Service Commissioner, Russell Thomas has appointed Teokotai Joseph as the Secretary for the newly created Ministry of Corrective Services.  Teokotai or Tai as he is commonly known by, will be the first Head of this new Ministry and the expectations on him to achieve great things is huge.

The Ministry of Corrective Services will be made up of the Probation and Prison Services.  It will be responsible for ensuring that offenders are managed securely and safely within the prison and in the community.  Tai was appointed by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) as the Transition Manager to oversee and facilitate the separation of these two Divisions from MOJ.

Joseph is the current Chief Probation Officer with the Ministry of Justice.  He has had 10 years working experience within the Police and 19 years with the Probation Service, an area that he has always been passionate in working in.  He has always strived to help those that he works with to become better people and contribute to the development of our country.  Joseph has strong management skills and experience and is able to work autonomously or collaboratively as part of a larger team and he continuously strives for excellence.

Joseph is keen to start implementing some of the recommendations made by the Public Service Capacity Assessment Report of the MOJ in 2017 as well as the McDermott and Matapo Report.

The Capacity Assessment undertaken by the Office of the Public Service Commissioner, looked at the issues hindering the performance of MOJ by analyzing key areas of policy and legislative mandates, leadership and management, organisational culture and capability of staff and the Agency and systems including finance and data management.  The Prison Service was scrutinised by the McDermott and Matapo Report, following a violent incident that took place at Rarotonga.  The Report identified various priorities for the Prison and the NZ Department of Corrections is currently carrying out an evaluation and will develop a plan to support and improve the outcomes for Probation and Prison Services.

Joseph acknowledges that the Ministry of Corrective Services will be operating in a very challenging environment and will endeavor for the Ministry to provide an efficient and effective service for the safety of the people of the Cook Islands while at the same time working on effective rehabilitation and reintegration for offenders in the community and in prison.

Friday 23 November 2018



The Public Service Commissioner, Russell Thomas has appointed Tamatoa Jonassen as the new Secretary for the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).  The former Secretary who had been in this position from 2011 is Tingika Elikana who is now Member of Parliament for Pukapuka – Nassau.

Jonassen is currently completing his term as the CEO of the Financial Services Development Authority (FSDA). He has a Bachelor of Science double majoring in Political Science and Information Systems, a law certificate in Pacific & Asian Legal Studies, a graduate certificate in Conflict Resolution from the Matsunaga Institute for Peace, and a Juris Doctor in Law from the USA.  Jonassen is admitted to practice law in both the Cook Islands and the State of Hawaii in the USA, and has served on the Cook Islands Law Society Council for the past four years.

Having grown up in the Cook Islands, Jonassen has gained a love for, and understanding of, our culture and heritage.  He has links to all of the Pae Enua and Rarotonga, which has strengthened his commitment to the Cook Islands and deepened his understanding of the nuances of the challenges facing Cook Islanders and the social impacts that our justice system must deal with.

During his time as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu, he experienced administrating the criminal case loads of all five district courthouses on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, handling approximately 30 to 200 cases daily set for arraignment and/or trial.  He has learned that it is important to have efficient and reliable processes to ensure proper access to justice and ensure the finality of court judgements.

Jonassen is keen to use technological advances to help the Ministry of Justice navigate the opportunities and challenges that they are facing.  He anticipates that his time in the Ministry of Justice will see some positive changes and opportunities to create efficiencies and effective processes in our legal system.


Friday 16 November 2018


Cook Islands Ambassadors Angelia Williams, Kate Ngatokorua, Sandee Cook, Shaun Teaurima and Tayla Beddoes have recently returned from attending a three week ‘Young Leaders from Pacific Islands Countries’ programme held in Guangdong province, China. The training programme for Civil Servants and Young Leaders from Pacific Island Countries, was organised by the Foreign Affairs Office of the People’s Government of Guangdong and aims to sustain and facilitate the practical collaboration between our two countries.
The Ambassadors described the programme as “eye opening”. They attended seminars and lectures, explored Shenzhen, Dongguan, Pearl River Delta and Foshan cities, and participated in the Chinese cultural events. “Taylor Beddos, Digital Coordinator from the Cook Islands Tourism Cooperation stated that the genuine friendliness and hospitality they received from the people of China was as “warm and enduring as the Pacific Island sun.” Additionally, having an insight into Chinese culture, economic development, trade, education, technology and health care the Ambassadors noted that “our goals and vision for our countries are very similar” and look forward to continued partnership. The Ambassadors would like to thank the Foreign Affairs Office of the Peoples Government of Guangdong and Guangdong University for this opportunity.
The Public Service Commissioner Russell stated that “this training is in line with the Government’s Public Sector Strategy 2016-2025 as these opportunities help to grow our people to strive and achieve excellence through learning, innovating and continuously improving” Thomas says “the Ambassadors have done the Cook Islands proud”

Wednesday 14 November 2018


The Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas has completed his investigation into Mr. Ben Ponia, former Secretary of the Ministry of Marine Resources in September 2018.

The Commissioner found there was no serious misconduct on the part of Ponia, but an error of judgement by failing to follow a Government policy in a particular instance.

The issue which was investigated arose from the meeting of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (“WCPFC”) in Manila in December 2017 over fishing rights of Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) in the high seas.   The tuna fisheries is an economic activity that requires a regional management approach under the mandate of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).  It is Government policy that the Cook Islands support where appropriate, regional positions and demonstrate regional solidarity to enable the region to obtain value from this industry in a sustainable manner.

The investigation arose over a complaint that Mr. Ponia failed to follow an instruction of his Minister to preserve regional solidarity at the meeting.  Mr. Ponia expressed the only dissent to a measure that he perceived would remove some rights in the high seas vested in small island states including the Cook Islands.

“Mr. Ponia’s decision to take a view contrary to that of the Pacific region caused unease among some members. The facts of the complaint were not disputed.   Mr. Ponia accepted he may have erred.”

The Commissioner says that this finding of an error of judgment is a sufficient outcome in itself.

Thursday 8 November 2018


On 5 November 2018, the Public Service Commissioner, Russell Thomas appointed Johnny Hosking as the new Secretary for the Ministry of Transport (MOT).  Hosking will replace outgoing Head of Ministry, Ned Howard who had been in this position since 2012.

Hosking brings broad management skills and leadership attributes to improve the social, economic and environmental outcomes for the Cook Islands.  These traits include having integrity, inspiring others to embrace continuous improvements, being innovative to deliver public goods and services.

Transport is integral to the provision of tourism to the Cook Islands as well as to the development of the Pa Enua through the provision of reliable and regular maritime and aviation transportation. Hosking intends to advocate for changes in the Ministry to ensure that the Ministry can provide the best transport service – which is safe and reliable – for the Cook Islands.

In June 2016, Hosking joined MOT as the Aviation (Safety & Security) Oversight Manager, a role which required him to amongst other things, update Cook Islands Civil Aviation Rules 2018; ensure the Cook Islands meets ICAO Guidelines; review Air Service licence applications as well as Air Service Agreements.

Prior to joining Transport, Hosking spent 30 years in the Cook Islands Police, rising to the rank of Inspector in 2008.  In the Police, he served as a Commander for the National Command, Control and Coordination Centre; the Training and Development Division; as well as for General Policing and Traffic Division.

Hosking has a Masters in Transnational Crime Prevention from the University of Wollongong, Australia; and a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Financial Management and Management and Public Administration from USP, Fiji.

Friday 28 September 2018



The Public Service Commissioner is pleased to announce the appointment of Ben Ponia as the new Chief of Staff of the Office of the Prime Minister.   Ponia took up his post today with an official introduction by the Prime Minister, Hon Henry Puna to all the staff of the Office of the Prime Minister.

As Chief of Staff, Ponia is optimistic that as a nation we are gifted with talent, resources, and opportunity. He wanted to continue his association with the Cook Islands Government as Chief of Staff, Office of the Prime Minister, because he strongly believes in its mission, and in his abilities to serve.  He welcomes the challenge of working with dedicated staff, Government Agencies, local communities (particularly in the Pa Enua), international partners and the private sector. He believes that we have an obligation to build on past efforts to ensure for the sake of our future generations, that we sustainably explore our nation’s potential.

Ponia will be overseeing the Office of the Prime Minister, which as a central agency, their key role has been to provide excellent service in the following areas; (renewable energy, ICT, Emergency management, Climate Change policies, etc.) to our Government, while at the same time ensuring that they provide reasoned strategic advice that advances our whole country.  They have delivered on, core Government functions for the public sector, and on a number of significant sustainable environmental projects. These projects will have a long-lasting impact on the future of the Cook Islands and as such, OPM has undertaken their role as custodians and stewards seriously for our islands, oceans, culture and heritage.  Ponia’s experience in the marine sector will be invaluable in guiding the full implementation of Te Marae Moana. Ponia’s experience in spending his formative years with the Ministry of Marine Resources working in the Pa Enua will bode him well, given that Pa Enua Island Governments are supported by the OPM.

In 2000, Ponia joined the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in New Caledonia as a Manager in the Marine Division where he successfully developed, and led a Regional Programme for Aquaculture for 10 years. He has worked with many Pacific Islands in developing Government policies, local capacity and small business enterprises. He has conducted country missions throughout the Pacific and fostered regional partnerships with development agencies and donors. He has also strengthened the Asia-Pacific network, travelling extensively through Asia and in particular China as it emerged as an economic powerhouse.

Despite the prospect for a successful career with SPC, he decided to take up the then vacant post of Secretary of the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) in 2010.   Under his leadership, Ponia was able to realise the potential of the sector, and in particular, the sustainable utilisation of a large untapped tuna fishery, which entailed a sharp learning curve. The MMR has been successful in deriving large amounts of revenue from the fishery collecting up to $19 million dollars per annum.

At MMR, he championed the issue of livelihoods and household food security, and addressing depopulation in the Pa Enua by channelling support towards local fishermen and small-scale development.   He has also led MMR to become a leader in the region in terms of compliance and management through sophisticated fisheries surveillance operations, and the provision of scientific data.

Ben has a public service career spanning eighteen years. He holds a Master of Science degree from James Cook University in Australia, has a graduate fellowship from East West Center in Hawaii and is currently enrolled in a PhD with at the School of Law in the University of Wollongong in Australia, looking at the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and its implications for Small Island States.

The Office of the Public Service Commissioner is confident that under his tenure as Chief of Staff, Ponia will be able to ensure that the Office of the Prime Minister will deliver on major national development projects that will allow the Cook Islands to achieve our national vision as articulated in the National Sustainable Development Plan – “To enjoy the highest quality of life consistent with the aspirations of our people, and in harmony with our culture and environment”



The Public Service Commissioner has confirmed three new Heads of Ministries – Ms Diane Charlie-Puna as Secretary of the Ministry of Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI); Ms Pamela Maru as  Secretary of the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR); and Ms Temarama Anguna as Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Ms Diane Charlie-Puna replaces former Secretary Ngametua College Pokino who served in this position since 2015.  Pokino was previously Acting Island Secretary of Mangaia since 2012.

Ms Charlie-Puna has over the course of her 5 years at ICI, developed and implemented business improvement systems to strengthen the foundation of ICI through strong policies, systems, processes, and legislation.  Charlie-Puna has for the past 15 years built a successful career in management and leadership in the public sector.  She is confident that she can make an immediate positive contribution to ICI to continue achieving its strategic and organisational goals and outcomes.  Charlie-Puna graduated with First Class Honours in a Masters of Philosophy this year and with a Masters of Business Administration in 2011.


Ms Pamela Maru replaces former Secretary Ben Ponia who was Secretary since 2010.  Ponia has worked for MMR for a total duration of 18 years beginning in 1988 as an Intern on a Government university scholarship.

Ms Maru is currently working as a Fisheries Management Adviser for the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) in Honiara, Solomon Islands, since 2012.   She commenced her fisheries career in MMR which has covered all aspects of fisheries management, including both the national and regional context across both management and monitoring, control and surveillance.  Ms Maru understands that there is a strong need to ensure that marine resources are managed to optimize its use in enhancing food security and improving the livelihoods of our people, and to identify and take advantage of opportunities to diversity the country’s economy and strengthening autonomy, whilst balancing our social, cultural and moral values.  Ms Maru has a Bachelor of Science.


Ms Temarama Anguna replaces the retiring Secretary Dr Matairangi Purea who has been Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture since 2012.  Dr Purea brought extensive national and regional experience in agricultural/horticultural production, research and management.

Ms Anguna was the Human Resources Manager for the Ministry of Health and has management qualities in HR management, strategic and business planning, policy development, knowledge and information management and risk management.  Ms Anguna is looking forward to the challenges of this new leadership role and will continue to advocate for innovative solutions for the Agriculture sector.  Ms Anguna has a Master of Business Administration and will soon graduate with a Post Graduate Diploma in Commerce majoring in Public Sector Administration.