Barrick fallout continues
In Papua New Guinea, the fallout from the government’s decision not to renew the mining license of Barrick (Niugini) Gold (BNG) has continued. The chairman of the Zijin Mining Group, a major shareholder in BNG, has written to Prime Minister Marape to express his concern at the government’s decision. In his letter Jinghe Chen warns that a failure to grant the license may have a negative impact on the bilateral relationship between China and PNG.
Meanwhile, the company has said it will pursue all legal options to maintain its interest in the mine. The National Court has ordered both parties to commence negotiations and return to court to report on progress on May 8.
Operations at the Porgera site have been suspended. This has already had a significant impact on the local economy in the area. Landowners have criticised the government for having rushed through the decision to cancel the license without adequate consultation.
Pacific leaders comment on the ‘Oceania bubble’
As New Zealand and Australia start to examine the possibility of opening their borders to each other, there have been some calls for Pacific countries to be included in an ‘Oceania bubble’.
Relaxation of restrictions around international travel may provide some economic support by allowing for Pacific workers to travel to participate in temporary labour schemes in Australia and New Zealand. There are also hopes that Pacific tourism will get a boost.
In the region, there have been some guarded comments of welcome. In Vanuatu, the newly installed Minister of Finance, Johnny Koanapo, said that there had been some preliminary discussions. He pointed out that there would need to be strong safeguards in place to minimise the risk of introducing COVID-19 into his country. Similarly, the Minister for Health of Tonga has said that his government may consider opening the borders to people travelling from infection-free countries.
Pre-election positioning ahead of elections in Samoa
Elections in Samoa will be held April 19, 2021. With just under 12 months to go, the political positioning is well underway. A group of women in Samoa have registered a party to contest in the polls. It is the 5th party to have registered with the Electoral Commission. Samoa has temporary special measures in place to ensure that the parliament contains at least five women.
Meanwhile political tensions have been rising over the government’s attempts to change the Constitution of Samoa. The apparent attempts to rush through legislation have led to strong criticism from two political parties who have called for the bills to be delayed.
On the floor of Parliament, the Prime Minister and his deputy had a heated exchange of words. This has led some to wonder if Fiame Naomi Mata’afa will seek to dislodge Prime Minister Tuilaepa from the top job come April.
Solomon Islands announces a stimulus package
In Solomon Islands the government has announced a stimulus package that is worth SBD 309 million (AUD 58.3 million). This is the latest in such measures that we have seen taken by Pacific governments to address the economic impacts of COVID-19. Although Solomon Islands does not have any recorded cases of the virus, the effects of closing international borders and the global shutdown have already been felt.
The package has a number of elements, including provision of tax relief for businesses in the immediate to short term; cash injections to state-owned enterprises such as Solomon Airlines, and large-scale investment in productive sectors such as agriculture and value-adding to natural resources.
The government intends to finance the package by way of direct budget support, issuance of bonds, and financial support from development partners.
Pacific Islands Forum mobilises support for aid strategy
A recent roundtable for donor partners convened by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat aims to mobilise support for the Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy (2020-2025). The Strategy was endorsed earlier in the year by a meeting of the Forum Trade Ministers.
The Strategy is focused around four principles: strategic regional impact; prioritisation; leveraging existing policies and mechanisms; and ownership. As it is developed and implemented it will align with other aspects of regional architecture such as the Framework for Pacific Regionalism and the Blue Pacific 2050 strategy.
The donors’ roundtable was an opportunity to share information about work that has already been done and examine challenges for the future. The impact of COVID-19 on trade for Forum member countries was of particular concern.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.