TESS NEWTON CAIN |
Foreign Ministers to meet ahead of PIF
This week sees a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum’s Foreign Ministers. This comes ahead of the meeting of PIF leaders to be held in Fiji next week.
This is one of two standing ministerial meetings that is held within the PIF architecture. It plays a significant role in determining what will be discussed by Leaders and what their communiqué will contain. For some countries, such as Fiji and Samoa, the foreign affairs portfolio is held by the leader of government.
In addition to the standing items on the leaders’ agenda, the Foreign Ministers will review (and filter) items to be added. A potential point of contention relates to the recently signed security agreement between Solomon Islands and China. Whilst some leaders have stated that they want to see this item discussed at the upcoming Forum meeting, this may not be welcomed by Solomon Islands.
Guardian Class boats declared defective
The spate of Guardian Class boats being returned to Australia from Pacific island countries raised questions in some quarters. Most recently, RVS Takuare has been withdrawn from duty in Vanuatu.
Last week, those questions were addressed by the Australian Department of Defence. In a briefing with Australian media, the Department advised that the vessels had several design defects.
The flaws in design include the potential for carbon monoxide to enter an internal part of the boats that could be occupied by crew members. The defects have been accepted by Austal, the company that built the boats. A team from Defence and the company will travel to the Pacific to meet with national officials to determine how these issues can be rectified.
The Guardian Class vessels are at the heart of the Pacific Maritime Support Program and have been seen as a flagship component of Australia’s “Pacific Step Up”.
Kiribati suspends Chief Justice
The government of Kiribati has suspended the Chief Justice. The announcement to suspend William Hastings, who hails from New Zealand, has caused a lot of concern. It calls into question the government’s commitment to the rule of law.
This comes on the heels of the recent suspension of David Lambourne. Justice Lambourne is Australian and is the husband of Tessie Lambourne, who is the leader of the Opposition in Kiribati. Justice Lambourne has been unable to return to his home in Kiribati for many months.
This is part of a longstanding drift away from democratic culture that has been seen in Kiribati in the last few years. Some years ago, international media were denied entry to the country to cover a ferry sinking in which many people died.
The Kiribati government has stated that the suspensions of both judges are because of ‘misbehaviour’. A tribunal has been established to investigate these claims.
President of Vanuatu pardons politicians
In Vanuatu, the President has handed out pardons to a current minister and a former Prime Minister. President Obed Tallis issued these pardons as his term of office draws to a close. The move has been criticised by some in the country.
Current Health Minister, Bruno Leingkone had been sentenced to a fine and community service after being convicted of offences related to an incident in which he was intoxicated on an aircraft last year. The sentence was such that his seat was not vacated.
Moana Carcasses is a former Prime Minister. He was at the heart of a bribery and corruption case which saw fourteen MPs jailed in 2015. Carcasses was sentenced to four years imprisonment and was released on parole in 2017. The pardon has the effect of removing the ten-year bar on his standing for Parliament. This opens the way for him to contest the elections in 2024.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.