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Former Cook Island MP Teina Bishop ended his six-month prison term and returned to his home on Aitutaki on Friday, to a huge welcome from island residents.
In a statement, Bishop said he was happy to be home and planned to put politics aside for the meantime to allow him to adjust to normal life and maintain his relationships with his family and the community.
“There is much work to be done on Aitutaki, but I will consider my political future in due course after consulting with my family and my people.”
Large numbers of family members, friends and supporters turned out to welcome the former One Cook Islands leader home.
“It was an unbelievable welcome on a beautiful day filled with singing, emotion and joy as Bishop and his family exited the aircraft making their way through to the airport waiting area,” said the MP for Arenikau, Pumati Israela.
“For a brief moment the airport came to a standstill as mamas eagerly awaiting his arrival sang songs of joy for him and his family to welcome them home and to show their love and care for him.
“It was a mark of respect for a person who has done so much for the people of Aitutaki, and judging from the welcome reception, what happened to him is now in the past and today was all that mattered.”
Departing and arriving tourists were in awe at the size of the welcome for Bishop and wondered what all the fuss was about, Israela said.
One visitor had asked if a famous celebrity was arriving.
“One smiling mama replied, ‘no, our son and our leader has come home’.”
Another elderly island resident said he had not seen a welcome of that magnitude since the time the late Sir Geoffrey Henry had become prime minister and had visited the island for the first time, Israela added.
“For Bishop and his family, it was difficult to hold back the emotions and the tears as they were bedecked with beautiful ei as a mark of respect and love, including both young and old.
“There were no speeches, only hugs and welcome home kisses and you could feel the emotions running high as they made their way through the airport.
“You could sense Bishop holding back the tears and emotions to see so many well-wishers and friends to meet him and his family. It was truly an unbelievable sight to witness.
“Similarly, at a dinner function prepared by Arutanga One Cook Islands and Democratic Party supporters, the mood was even more exciting as Bishop thanked everyone for their support during his term of imprisonment until this day.
“Bishop said it was good to be home amongst family and friends. His priority was to thank the Lord, his supporters and last but not least, his family, to whom he paid tribute to for their support during his term inside (jail).”
Israela described the number of people who had turned out at Aitutaki airport and added to the spirit of Bishop’s homecoming as “unbelievable”.
Bishop thanked everyone including his friend George Maggie MP, who he said had been by his side since day one, Israela said.
“He said it had been sad to leave Arorangi Prison which had been his home for six months.
“He said the time there had opened his eyes and he had made many lifetime friends there.”
On Wednesday last week, as a mark of appreciation, Bishop provided a farewell umukai (feast) for all the prison inmates and wardens Israela said “enormous” structural changes had occurred at the prison in the time Bishop had been jailed. Bishop was grateful to government and private sponsors for providing much-needed support and resources to improve basic living conditions and to create a positive rehabilitation environment for both men and women at the prison, he added.
“Initiatives Bishop has been involved in include the creation of a small egg farm business venture solely managed by the inmates.
“He has also been teaching inmates basic living and life skills, counselling, as well as offering business and basic management and motivational training for inmates.”
Bishop was jailed in December on a charge of corruption as a Minister of the Crown. His sentencing by the Court of Appeal followed a two-year investigation into his dealings with a Chinese fishing company when he was Ministry of Marine Resources minister.
SOURCE: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/PACNEWS
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