The Cook Islands Finance Minister, Mark Brown, says a priority of this year's budget has been to improve the salaries of teachers, nurses, and doctors.
The budget has been tabled in parliament with an expenditure of $196.5 million.
As part of an ongoing campaign to combat the high incidence of non-communicable disease in Cook Islands, more levies have been put on soft drinks and tobacco.
Mr Brown told Bridget Tunnicliffe it's a responsible budget.
MARK BROWN: We have managed to fund a number of priorities that we wanted to fund, but also managed to ensure that we produce a budget that's in a slight surplus. Statistically, we've produced a balanced budget of just over $196 million. We've had a surplus budget every time we've tabled a budget. Last year's budget was just over $190 million, so we've had an increase this year of around $6.5 million that we've been able to put towards our expenditure. And that new expenditure, basically, we've put close to $1.7 million towards improving the salaries of teachers, nurses and doctors in the ministries of health and education, which also includes our teachers in private schools, as well. So in terms of personnel, a lot of the new money has gone into basically making sure that teachers are being paid their appropriate salary. It hasn't been adjusted for a number of years and we felt this was one area of priority that we needed to address with the education minister for our economy moving forward. So ensuring that our teachers, our service providers are adequately remunerated is one of our priorities. We've also put a significant amount of money into our own infrastructure. In our budget this year we've got $8 million of our own money going towards upgrades on the harbour islands and also for water programmes, upgrading our water system and also the installation of water tanks.
BRIDGET TUNNICLIFFE: In terms of financing those increases, will you also be looking for cash injections from aid donors?
MARK BROWN: Well, we have a very steady programme of overseas development assistance, predominantly from New Zealand and Australia under their Harmonised Aid Programme. And they have a three-year programme of expenditure for their money that comes in. And the majority of their funds goes towards the renewable energy programme that we have in place. Also sanitation programmes we're looking to improve. But in terms of immediate cash injections, no, we have to use our own budget from new initiatives that we want to push.
BRIDGET TUNNICLIFFE: You've talked about the company's economic growth being pinned to tourism. What are you doing in terms of ensuring that that remains steady?
MARK BROWN: We currently spend quite a lot on marketing the Cook Islands destination in our various markets, in particular now our key markets are Australia and New Zealand. We're also investing in our airline underwrite, where we subsidise the cost of flights to ensure we have a direct flight coming to LA, from LA to Rarotonga, and also the continuation of the Rarotonga to Sydney flights.