Former Prime Minister arrested on arrival in PNG
Former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was arrested on his arrival into Port Moresby on Saturday. He was one of several MPs who had been unable to return to PNG because of travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr O’Neill was questioned by anti-fraud police and has been charged with abuse of office, official corruption and misappropriation. The charges relate to the purchase of two generators from Israel, at a cost of AU$21.8 million, when Mr O’Neill was PM. The police allege that this purchase was made outside of normal procurement processes and without parliamentary approval.
Last year a warrant was issued for Mr O’Neill’s arrest in relation to a different matter. It was subsequently withdrawn after O’Neill challenged its validity. At the time Mr O’Neill described the police action against him as a political witch hunt.
Mr O’Neill has been released on bail.
Kiribati elects its first female Speaker of Parliament
In Kiribati, the Parliament has elected Tangariki Reete to be the Speaker. She is the first woman to have held this position. Ms Reete is a former MP, and narrowly lost out on being elected earlier this year. (In Kiribati, the Speaker is not required to be an MP). She defeated the former Speaker, Tebuai Uaai, by 25 votes to 19.
Parliament went on to call for nominations for the Presidential elections to be held next month. Two nominations were received. One is the caretaker Prime Minister, Taneti Maamau. The other is his former political ally, now rival, Banuera Berina.
The presidential elections look set to go ahead despite the fact that under the Constitution of Kiribati, there is a requirement that there be three nominations. The maximum number of nominations that can be received is four.
Vanuatu looks to expansion of its Citizenship by Investment Programme
The newly installed Chairman of the Vanuatu National Citizenship Commission has predicted that the country’s Citizenship by Investment Programme will be expanded. Ronald Warsal was tasked by the Prime Minister, Bob Loughman, to review the scheme on taking up the office.
Mr Warsal has told the media that the scheme has generated VT6 billion (approx. AU$75 million) in government revenue in 2020 so far. This revenue is fuelling the government’s stimulus packages which are aimed to support the economy in the face of COVID-19 impacts on tourism, hospitality, and other sectors.
The proposed expansion is aimed at channelling new citizens into investing in the tourism sector. This is with the intention of creating more employment opportunities for ni-Vanuatu citizens.
The scheme has been a source of controversy within Vanuatu, with some people arguing that it undermines the country’s sovereignty and goes against what the nation’s founders fought for at Independence.
Fiji Airways lays off hundreds of staff
Fiji Airways has laid off more than 700 staff. The impacts of border closures and the shutdown of international travel has left the airline struggling to keep up with operating costs in the absence of any revenue. The airline’s monthly fixed costs are reported to be FJ$38 million (AU$26 million) per month.
The CEO, Andre Viljoen, said that all of those who lost their jobs were given one month’s paid notice, which is in excess of what is contractually required. He said that these measures were needed in order to protect the company so that it could be part of the future of tourism in Fiji when international travel resumes.
Meanwhile, the Parliament of Fiji has approved a motion to allow the government to guarantee loans to the airline totalling FJ$455 million (AU$310 million).
Pacific responses to Australia’s soft power push
Nearly 18 months after it was first announced, details have been revealed of the programming that Free TV Australia will be supplying to Pacific broadcasters.
The $17.1 million initiative is promoted by the Morrison government as an exercise in sharing values and deepening relationships with Australia’s Pacific neighbours. The programming that is being supplied draws on commercial offerings and includes reality TV programmes such as Master Chef and Border Force. Provision of sports coverage is still being negotiated.
This announcement has rekindled longstanding criticism of the plan, with particular reference to the lack of content from NITV, SBS, and the ABC which would be more likely to have cultural resonance in Pacific island countries. Pacific broadcasters and media consumers have commented that whilst this is welcome to some extent, the initiative as a whole would be improved by providing support for production of local content, including through co-production with Australian media.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.