Pacific countries caught up in ‘Pandora Papers’ revelations

Two countries in the Pacific islands region feature in revelations in the ‘Pandora Papers’.

A huge, global investigation by dozens of media organisations reveals schemes to protect and/or hide cash and assets from scrutiny, taxation, and repossession in cases of fraud or embezzlement.

Australian accountant, Graeme Briggs, is one of fourteen service providers named in the ‘Pandora Papers’ – a massive leak of more than eleven million documents. There is no suggestion that he has been involved in money laundering

Central to his operations were offshore financial centres in Samoa and Cook Islands.

Briggs was key to establishing the finance centre in Samoa, assisting with drafting legislation and the regulatory framework within which his company, Asiaciti, operated. Briggs was Samoa’s honorary consul to Singapore for 25 years.

It is likely that these revelations will increase the pressure on Pacific countries with finance centres to further tighten their regulatory frameworks.

PNG sees another surge in COVID-19 cases

In Papua New Guinea, authorities are scrambling to deal with another surge in COVID-19 cases.

The number of infections has spiked in several provinces. Health services are stretched beyond capacity. Not only is there a shortage of staff, but there are also concerns over a lack of appropriate equipment and supplies in hospitals.

A surge capacity medical team from Port Moresby has been despatched to Goroka, in Eastern Highlands Province. Additional supplies of oxygen have also been flown in to Goroka hospital, where there is a large number of cases.

National and provincial authorities are working to implement measures such as increased mask wearing as they attempt to contain the spread of the delta strain of COVID-19.

Levels of vaccination are still way below what is needed to protect the population. There have been protests in some parts of the country where employers have introduced mandatory vaccination policies.

Tonga prepares for elections

In Tonga, all eyes are on the forthcoming general elections. The country will go to the polls on November 18.

There are currently 75 candidates standing for the 17 parliamentary seats that are democratically elected by the people of Tonga. Among them are fifteen incumbents and eleven women. The remaining nine seats in the Parliament are held by members of the Tongan nobility. They will be chosen from among the noble families.

The number of candidates standing is reduced as compared with previous elections. This may reflect a level of discontent with the effectiveness of the Parliament among the Tongan population more generally.

Whilst political parties are not an established feature of Tongan politics, there are two loose groupings of MPs currently. One is the PAK, led by caretaker Prime Minister, Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa. The other is the PTOA, which was established by former PM, ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

Fiji reopening

In Fiji, this week saw more relaxations of public health measures as the country emerges from the recent COVID-19 outbreak.

The curfew was reduced and now operates between 10:00 pm and 4:00 am. This comes as the vaccination rates in Fiji achieve more than 70 per cent of the target population having received two doses.

The Fiji government has announced that international borders will be reopened in November. This is aimed at restarting tourism as the driving force for economic recovery.

Authorities have amended regulations relating to the “Blue Lanes” entry scheme aimed at enticing yacht owners to the country. Those wishing to enter Fiji under this scheme must now show that all on board any vessel have been fully vaccinated.

The case numbers in Fiji are declining as the impacts of the vaccination scheme start to show. There have been more than 600 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.


Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.