COVID-19 and court cases add to the political turmoil in PNG

The political turmoil in Papua New Guinea shows no sign of letting up.

Several court cases are ongoing to challenge decisions made in the Parliament. The challenge to the legality of James Marape’s election as Prime Minister last year was rejected in the Supreme Court. This week, the court will hear the Opposition’s challenge to the adjournment of Parliament to April made while they were absent. Parliament will not meet until a ruling is handed down.

If Parliament is recalled next week (as hoped for by the Opposition), matters are now complicated by the fact that a number of MPs in the Marape camp have tested positive for COVID-19. The MPs who support the PM are sequestered at Loloata island.

The Speaker of Parliament has received a number of directions from authorities as to how to proceed with Parliamentary sittings in these circumstances

Impacts of oil spill assessed in Solomon Islands

A recent report documents the impacts of an oil spill on Rennell, in Solomon Islands.

The spill occurred in February of 2019, when the MV Solomon Trader ran aground on the island. It is home to one of the few World Heritage sites in the Pacific islands region.

At the time that the spill occurred, Solomon Islands had very limited resources available to undertake a clean-up and otherwise mitigate the damage.

It has now been reported that a confidential report undertaken by a team of local and international experts has assessed that the economic costs could be as high as AU$50 million. Apparently, this report was provided to the government of Solomon Islands over a year ago but it has yet to be made public or tabled in Parliament.

The government of Solomon Islands has said that it hopes to obtain compensation for the damage that occurred via the ship’s insurer.

Leadership change for Opposition party in Fiji

In Fiji, the Opposition party SODELPA has a new President. Following an extended period of instability within the party, Viliame Gavoka was elected to the position at a board meeting held over the weekend.

His first task is to work to unify the party in readiness for the 2022 elections. He replaces Sitiveni Rabuka, who is currently the leader of the Opposition in the Fiji Parliament. Mr Rabuka has said that he will remain with SODELPA for now. He remains as Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament, unless voted out of that position under the party’s constitution.

SODELPA made significant inroads at the 2018 elections increasing its number of seats from 15 to 21. Whilst the election of the former coup leader to head the party was controversial, it appeared to have paid off as the party united behind him. However, that unity does not appear to have lasted.

Pacific voices take their demands for climate ambition to the Australian leadership

An open letter printed in the Sydney Morning Herald has called upon the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison to step up his country’s ambition when it comes to addressing climate change.

The letter is signed by a high-level coalition of former political leaders, current politicians and leading voices from Pacific civil society. They include Emeline Siale Ilolahia who is the Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Association of NGOs and Rev. James Bhagwan who is the General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches.

The letter was accompanied by an op-ed from Anote Tong, a former Prime Minister of Kiribati. He calls on the Australian government to demonstrate the sort of science-led leadership seen in response to Covid-19.

UN issues a statement of concern over escalating violence in West Papua

The office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights has issued a media statement expressing concern over escalating violence in West Papua. This comes ahead of the annual December 1st marking of the first time on which the Morning Star flag was raised in 1961.

The UNHCHR makes specific reference to the findings of the National Human Rights Commission that Rev Yeremiah Zanambani was killed by Indonesian security forces earlier this year.

The statement notes that multiple arrests, shootings and killings are part of a trend that has been observed since 2018 “following the killing of 19 individuals working on the Trans-Papua Highway in Nduga regency by armed Papuan elements.”

Meanwhile the United Liberation Movement for West Papua has announced that it considers itself to be a provisional ‘government in waiting’ with its leader Benny Wenda to be ready to lead an independent West Papua as President.


Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.