TESS NEWTON CAIN |
Pacific Island Leaders Meeting
Suva was buzzing last week as the 51st meeting of Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders took place. It was the first face-to-face meeting since 2019 so there was much work to do.
Despite several no-shows, the program went ahead pretty much as planned. At the heart of the week was the endorsement and launch of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, which has been heralded as the region’s ‘North Star’ to guide security, responses to climate change, oceans governance and more as we head to mid-century.
Several important and interesting things happened in the margins of the meetings. The chairmanship of the Melanesian Spearhead Group was transferred from Papua New Guinea to Vanuatu. Fiji and Solomon Islands formalised a maritime border treaty. And Niue launched a ground-breaking Oceans Credit Initiative.
Unfortunately, the convergence on Suva created a super-spreader event for COVID-19.
Fiji budget handed down
Fiji’s budget for 2023 was handed down on Friday. This is the final budget ahead of the forthcoming elections.
The budget includes assistance to pensioners and low-income families with a 6-month allocation of $180 per After Care Fund beneficiary (around 100,00 people) and an equivalent amount for each child.
The national debt is now at 85% of Gross Domestic Product. However, the Attorney-General and Minister for the Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum insists that Fiji is riding the wave of a ‘Bula Boom’. Predicts the economy will grow by more than 12% during 2022 and that the government is on target to collect $2.25 billion in revenue by the end of the year.
The recovery is driven largely by tourism. The government is predicting arrivals of more than 500,000 for 2022. Whether that will be achieved given the new waves of COVID-19 in Australia and New Zealand remains to be seen.
Devastating waves in the Eastern Pacific
Huge waves have wreaked damage and devastation on several countries in the Eastern Pacific. A state of emergency has been declared in American Samoa. Some families had to leave their homes to escape the waves. Emergency supplies have been sent to Aunu’u, which saw the biggest impact.
In Rarotonga, water swept through buildings causing enormous amounts of damage. This has inflicted yet another blow on a tourism industry trying to come back from the impacts of COVID. There have been reports of huge amounts of damage to infrastructure at resorts and elsewhere.
French Polynesia was also affected. A state of natural disaster was called, and this has triggered the release of funds to address damage to critical infrastructure, including roads and ports.
A high-pressure system from New Zealand caused what has been described as a highly unusual weather event, which led to widespread havoc.
Transfer of chairing arrangements for the Melanesian Spearhead Group
Papua New Guinea has handed over the chair of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) to Vanuatu. The transfer took place in a small ceremony held on the margins of the PIF leaders’ meeting.
This was the first time that the leaders of the MSG have met for several years. However, the only substantive issue that was addressed was this handover of chairing arrangements. The thornier issue of full membership for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua was not considered.
A special leaders’ meeting is expected to convene later in the year. September has been touted as a possible date, although that may clash with the Fiji elections.
The MSG also has a new Director General, Leonard Louma. He has been in office for four months and is expected to relocate to Port Vila in the next few weeks.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.