Budget passed in Papua New Guinea
In a further twist to the political drama playing out in PNG, the Marape government was back in Parliament last Tuesday after the Speaker ruled the previous week’s suspension invalid. Whilst the Opposition was stranded in Vanimo, the budget was passed in double quick time and Parliament was adjourned until April.
Treasurer Ian Ling Stuckey chose “Consolidation for Growth” as the theme for his 2021 budget. It promises increased spending on agriculture, tourism, and small business. This will be welcomed by those who have long felt that the PNG economy is over-reliant on the resources sector.
The cost of servicing debt is a continuing sticking point for PNG. Prime Minister Marape said his government was looking to “clean” loans incurred recently. He indicated that his government would look to work with partners such as Australia, Japan, the ADB and the IMF in terms of future loans.
First COVID-19 case for Samoa yet to be confirmed
Further tests conducted in New Zealand will confirm if Samoa has now recorded its first case of COVID-19. The repatriated sailor had tested negative prior to arrival in the country. He then tested positive whilst in quarantine with a further test showing a negative result.
Samoan authorities have confirmed that the 23-year-old male has been moved to an isolation unit at the National Hospital although he does not have any symptoms at this stage.
The Prime Minister made an address to the population in which he called for calm. However, there were reports of some parents taking their children out of school and the feeling among the people in Apia generally was one of concern.
The government has announced that people arriving from the USA later this week will be required to spend 21 days in quarantine on arrival into Samoa.
Trial of former Prime Minister commences in Vanuatu
The trial of former PM, Charlot Salwai is underway in the Supreme Court of Vanuatu. Mr Salwai and current MP (and former Minister) Matai Seremiah are facing charges of bribery and corruption. Mr Salwai is also facing a charge of perjury.
The case was initiated by the now Deputy Prime Minister, Ishmael Kalsakau, during last year when he was then Leader of the Opposition. His complaint relates to Mr Salwai’s appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries, a practice which has since been ruled unconstitutional.
More than 20 witnesses are expected to be called for the prosecution during the case. Many of them are members of the current Parliament. The defendants have received dispensation from the Speaker to be absent from the sitting which was expected to be ongoing at the same time. However, Parliament has now been adjourned and will not sit again until next year.
Pacific island countries concerned about ‘greenwashing’ in international shipping
Pacific island countries have voiced their concerns over what they see as ‘greenwashing’ in the international shipping sphere.
A forthcoming meeting of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is scheduled to debate a motion related to reducing carbon emissions in the sector. Ambassador Albon Ishoda of Marshall Islands has been very vocal in his criticism.
The proposed resolution would allow for a 15% increase in carbon emissions over the next ten years. Critics, including Pacific representatives see this as contrary to the objectives of the Paris Agreement. It also goes against a voluntary agreement agreed to in 2018 by the shipping industry to reduce emissions across the sector.
The move away from decreasing emissions has been spearheaded by Japan, who chairs the Environment Committee of the IMO, considered to be the most influential seat at the table.
Biden appointments put climate change action front and centre of foreign policy
President-elect Joe Biden has been making progress with transition arrangements in the United States of America.
His announcement of John Kerry as a special Presidential envoy for climate change has already been welcomed in the Pacific islands region. In a tweet, the Prime Minister of Fiji welcomed the former of Secretary of State ‘back to the fight’ with a hark back to the optimism of 2015 when the Paris agreement was signed.
It will not go unnoticed in the region that Kerry will sit on the National Security Council, placing climate change front and centre when it comes to foreign policy under a Biden/Harris administration.
Kerry brings with him the seniority and gravitas to progress the ambition on climate change action that Biden has promised, quite possibly in conjunction with Kamala Harris, as Vice-President. For the first 12 months of his term, it is likely that Biden himself will be more preoccupied with domestic issues.