Forum Chair calls for a deferral of the changeover for Secretary General

Just a couple of days ahead of the deadline for applications, the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister Kausea Natano, has requested that the appointment of a new Secretary-General be deferred until leaders can meet face to face next year, in Fiji.

The current Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, is due to stand down later this year, having served two three-year terms. By convention, it is the ‘turn’ of Micronesia to have their preferred candidate take on the role of the region’s most senior bureaucrat. Their nomination is Ambassador Gerald Zackios. However, Cook Islands’ Prime Minister Henry Puna announced recently that he was leaving politics as he was to be nominated to lead the Forum Secretariat. Solomon Islands is also expected to put forward Dr Jimmie Rodgers as their preferred candidate, and he may get backing from other Melanesian countries.

Kiribati Presidential elections overshadowed by geopolitical tussles

In Kiribati the presidential elections held this week were overshadowed by ongoing geopolitical tussles in the country. When Kiribati changed its political allegiance from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China last year, there was a lot of community concern expressed. This had flow-on effects in the recent parliamentary elections which saw a swing against the previous governing group in favour of former opposition factions, who are considered to be pro-Taiwan.

Ahead of the presidential elections, concern was expressed by a number of people about the level of outside lobbying and interference was being employed to try and affect the vote.

The election was contested by former President Taneti Maamau and Banuera Berina, formerly the leader of Mammau’s party, and now with the former pro-Taiwan Opposition.

The election was won by Maamau who obtained 26, 053 votes to Berina’s 17,866.

Ninth COVID-19 case reported in Papua New Guinea

Authorities in PNG have advised that a ninth case of coronavirus infection has been identified in the country. The infected person is an Australian male member of the Australian Defence Force, stationed in Port Moresby. He has been resident in PNG since January of this year.

This comes as the government of PNG brings the State of Emergency to an end. Restrictions and other controls to manage COVID-19 in the country are now governed by the National Pandemic Act 2020. This legislation has come under criticism from several quarters, including the PNG Law Society.

There are serious concerns about this legislation given that it appears to place significant restrictions on constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms. It also removes COVID-19 spending by government from the remit of oversight provided under other legislation such as the Procurement Act.

Trade developments in Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea

Solomon Islands has become the sixth country to ratify the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER Plus) trade agreement. The agreement was signed by 14 countries in 2017. Papua New Guinea and Fiji declined to be part of the agreement, which is one reason that many feel it is not a strong mechanism for trade in the region. PACER Plus requires eight of the signatory countries to ratify it in order for it to enter into force.

Meanwhile, the government of Papua New Guinea has announced that work is progressing towards signing a free trade agreement with China. This comes further to more than 70 entities in PNG receiving approval to export seafood directly to China. Chinese Ambassador to PNG, Xue Bing has said that he sees opportunities for PNG famers to export agricultural products to his country in the future.

USP Council reinstates Vice Chancellor

Further to a meeting of the full Council of the University of the South Pacific, the Vice-Chancellor has been reinstated. However, he will still be subject to an investigation of allegations of misconduct.

V-C Ahluwalia Pal had been suspended by the Executive Committee of the University Council in what he has described as a witch hunt. Pal has been at loggerheads with other members of the senior management, including the Pro Chancellor, since a report that he compiled was leaked to the media. This report contained numerous allegations of mismanagement that had occurred during the tenure of the previous Vice-Chancellor, Rajesh Chandra. Further to Pal submitting this report to Council, an independent audit was undertaken by BDO in Auckland. This BDO report has now been leaked and there are indications that some of Pal’s allegations do have some substance.

The recent suspension of the Vice-Chancellor caused a great deal of concern across the region, leading to the incoming Chancellor, President Lionel Aingimea of Nauru, to call for a full meeting of Council late last week.


Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.