Migration continues to affect the Cook Islands with the resident population dropping to below 12,000.
Resident population stood at 11,800 in December 2005, according to figures released by the Statistics Office this week.
Resident figures are sure to cause confusion as total population continues to climb with an end of year figure of 21,600.
This is 4,600 more visitors than were in the country at the beginning of 2000, when the total population was 17,000 – and residents were calculated at 15,000.
Government has not offered any explanations for the huge gap between resident and total population.
Nor have government leaders responded to public calls for a survey into migration losses, including reasons why Cook Islanders are still leaving – mostly for Australia and New Zealand - despite continued economic growth.
However the number of Cook Islanders declaring they were leaving the country “permanently” has doubled.
In 2001, 195 people ticked this box on departure. Last year, 415 people did so.
An astonishing 12,769 residents are counted by Statistics as leaving the country last year, for a variety of reasons including vacation, business and, by far the biggest group at 5,486, visiting friends and relations.
Just five said they were leaving for work or education.
In 1993, government promised to survey workers on labour conditions and followed that up with another promise to similarly survey migrants.
Neither survey has ever been done.
No mention is made of the surveys in the latest government policy document, the March Budget Policy Statement.
“It is recognized that the outer islands face significant development issues as resources available to promote economic and social well being are limited. The drift of population to Rarotonga and overseas is evident and contributes to the capacity constraints faced by the outer islands. “Government intends to address these challenges by providing a better
coordinated approach towards sustainable development that will provide support to both private and public sector operations in the outer islands.”
Calls by MFEM officials last year to address the migration issue appear to have been dropped.
More positively for workers, government has announced an increase in the minimum wage from $4 to $5 an hour – a 25% increase.
One observer says that the size of the increase – and the lack of criticism from the private sector - suggests wages have been too low for some time, possibly contributing to migration.
According to the Consumer Price Index, costs of living have increased 23% since 1998, with food and housing the highest risers.