TESS NEWTON CAIN |
Micronesian leaders remain committed to Forum exit
The Micronesian Presidents’ Summit met last week. Their meeting was held online and included a virtual meeting with the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Prime Minister Bainimarama of Fiji.
The Micronesian leaders say they remain committed to exiting the Pacific Islands Forum further to the election of Henry Puna as Secretary-General. However, the Presidents of Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia have said that they welcome further dialogue with the PIF, including on proposals for reform of the organisation to make it more inclusive and representative of Micronesian concerns.
During the meeting, the leaders also discussed the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, shipping, and trade issues. President Kabua of the Marshall Islands stressed the importance of maintaining focus on the climate emergency ahead of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow later this year.
Three former Prime Ministers pardoned in Vanuatu
The office of the President of Vanuatu has advised that three former Prime Ministers have received pardons. The Prime Ministers are Charlot Salwai, Joe Natuman and Serge Vohor.
The pardons were met with some surprise as they act to expunge convictions and not just sentences.
With the removal of the convictions, it now appears that the three former leaders can re-enter political life. Charlot Salwai has already confirmed that he will stand in the upcoming bye-election on Pentecost. This seat became vacant when Salwai was convicted of perjury and received a sentence of more than two years.
Meanwhile the Supreme Court has ruled in the case of 19 MPs whose seats had previously been declared as vacant. On hearing of the electoral petitions, Justice Viran Trief Molisa ruled that the MPs had not been absent for three consecutive sittings and therefore their seats were not vacant.
COVID-19 surge in PNG
In PNG, authorities are watching with concern as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in West Sepik province. It has yet to be established if the current outbreak is of the delta variant.
The provincial health director has called for additional resources to be sent to his province as the Sandaun Provincial Hospital is at full capacity with only two members of staff.
Dr Trevor Kelebi says that the health authorities are dealing with a number of factors including vaccine hesitancy among the population and a resistance to following public health measures such as wearing masks. In addition, it is hard to know what the true extent of the outbreak is, as testing numbers remain very low.
Meanwhile in Western Province, 22 cases of the delta variant have been confirmed. The national pandemic controller, David Manning, has ordered that anyone who wishes to leave that province must test negative for COVID-19 prior to departure.
Australian parliamentary inquiry into trade with Pacific countries issues its report
The report of the trade subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade into activating greater trade and investment between Australia and the Pacific has been released.
One recommendation is that the Australian government should assist “interested governments of the Pacific island countries to join Australia’s kava commercial importation pilot and for the pilot to consider the feasibility of classifying kava as a food…”
This commercial importation pilot has yet to commence. It is expected that it will come online in January 2022. However, there have been no details released to exporters or importers of how it will work, what the requirements are, or which kava producing countries will be involved.
This lack of information is of concern to kava growers and producers in the region, who are unable to make any plans or projections.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.