TESS NEWTON CAIN |
Fiji COVID-19 crisis
The COVID-19 crisis in Fiji continues to dominate the news in that country. The outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant has seen a spike in cases of infection as well as deaths. The total number of cases of COVID-19 recorded in Fiji stands at 11,385 with 11,315 of those having been recorded since April 2021. There have been 58 deaths. Health officials have advised that the rolling seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths is three.
The government continues to resist calls to impose a full lockdown and instead is pursuing an aggressive vaccination campaign to reduce deaths and hospitalisations, if not infections.
This took a significant turn at the end of last week with a shock announcement by the Prime Minister, Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama, that public servants would have their employment terminated if they were not fully vaccinated by November 1.
Puna weighs in on Samoa deadlock
The political deadlock in Samoa remains unresolved. Decisions of both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal are expected this week, which may or may not bring things to a head.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Henry Puna, has made a further statement. The lack of intervention by the PIF has drawn criticism from some commentators. Puna released a short statement at the end of last week. He took the opportunity to “recall the guiding principles and values of the Forum’s Biketawa Declaration 2000”. He said that the Forum stood ready to provide any assistance required by Samoa at this time.
Also in the courts of Samoa, electoral petitions are being processed. The number of seats held by the HRPP party has steadily decreased. This certainly enhances the claims of the FAST party that they should be considered the government elect.
Preparations for PNG elections
With next year’s general elections rapidly approaching, preparations for the poll are underway in Papua New Guinea. However, there have been those who have questioned whether some major projects have been left too late in the electoral cycle.
The Electoral Commission has commenced work on updating the electoral roll. Problems with the accuracy of the roll have been a focus of longstanding concern in relation to elections in PNG. The work to update the roll has commenced with the National Capital District and Central Province.
However, the planned census for 2021 has recently been cancelled, which may hamper efforts to get the roll right ahead of the elections.
There is also a review of electoral boundaries underway. Authorities are looking into splitting the Morobe constituency into two and extending the geographical reach o the Lae constituency to include urban settlements on the edge of the city.
Finance and Economic ministers meet
This week sees a series of regional meetings taking place—all online. They include meetings of senior finance, trade and economic officials, finance and economic ministers and finance and trade ministers.
In remarks to officials, Secretary-General Henry Puna identified some of the pressing issues that they need to address as the region seeks to navigate in a challenging financial and economic environment.
Whilst restating that the impacts of climate change remain the biggest challenge for Pacific island countries, the Secretary-General also made note of the huge problem that debt poses for many Forum members. In order to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have had to take on additional debt and the costs of servicing those loans has also increased in some cases.
The Secretary-General called for innovative responses that would support Pacific island countries in their recovery from COVID-19 economic impacts and focus on the urgent needs for both climate mitigation and adaptation.
Australian vaccine bungles have flow-on effects in the Pacific
Whilst the bulk of discussion, commentary, and criticism of vaccine rollouts in Australia are wholly domestic focussed, the impacts for the Pacific islands region are being largely overlooked.
Spanning a number of announcements going back quite some time, the Morrison government has promised 51 million doses to poorer countries, with a particular focus on the Pacific islands region. However, as of 9 July, only 620,000 doses have been delivered—to Fiji, Timor-Leste, PNG, Solomon Islands, Samoa, and Tuvalu.
The prevalence of the Delta variant in Fiji is proving a major problem for other Pacific island countries, whose populations remain largely unvaccinated. The government of Vanuatu is currently wrestling with the issue of whether students can be safely repatriated from Fiji at the end of the academic year. For some in the community, the risk of introducing COVID into the country is unacceptably high with such a small percentage of the population immunised.