The first Cook Islands Premier the late Albert Henry, who was stripped of his knighthood and found guilty of election fraud, has been given a formal pardon by the King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters in Rarotonga this morning.
TVNZ reports that Henry, who had been described as a leader of considerable strength, was instrumental in the Cook Islands becoming self-governing and was elected as the country’s first Premier in 1965.
Known as “Papa Premier”, after 13 years in power he was forced to resign after he was found guilty of flying voters into the Cook Islands for a general election using government funds.
He was stripped of his knighthood in April 1980.
At times a polarising figure, he also allowed controversial cancer therapist Milan Brych, who was removed from New Zealand’s register of medical practitioners and later convicted of malpractice, to set up in the island country.
But Henry’s achievements, not just for the Cook Islands but also the Pacific, were vast.
He pushed hard for island leaders to have more power and more voice at the South Pacific Commission which was set up by Australia, France, The Netherlands, New Zealand, USA and the United Kingdom.
It eventually evolved into the South Pacific Forum, today known as the Pacific Islands Forum.
During one meeting he told media, “I find in this commission that there is that separation of colonial power still upheld by the commission depending on what their government would say there”.
He eventually became chair of the South Pacific Commission.
But there was no denying where his heart lay – with his people.
Henry oversaw the establishment of the House of Ariki, the chiefs of the Cook Islands, and introduced an old age pension.
He thought big, wanting to open the Cook Islands to the world and that included getting New Zealand to fund the airport development in exchange for air space control.
Rarotonga International Airport was opened in January 1974 by Queen Elizabeth.
Henry died of a heart attack in 1981 aged 73.
There have long been calls for Henry to be pardoned. In 2004 Prime Minister Robert Woonton described him as one of the country’s great sons and said his cabinet was considering legislation to pardon him, although that never eventuated. Today, in the week before the Cook Islands hosts the Pacific Islands Forum – the organisation which Henry envisioned – this has finally come to pass.