Rocky start to 51st Forum: be the unrelenting fisher
The 51st Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting is now underway in Suva, Fiji with Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa among the regional leaders in attendance.
But the region’s first non-virtual face-to-face summit in over 2 years has not been without controversy, even before the discussions between the leaders got underway.
Last Saturday the President of Kiribati, Taneti Maamau wrote to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Secretary General, explaining why his country has withdrawn its membership of the Pacific Islands Forum.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to offer my deepest regrets if the position that Kiribati has taken with regards to the Suva Agreement and our decision not to participate in the upcoming Leaders meeting have offended you, the Cook Islands and our Pacific family,” Mr Maamau wrote in his letter.
“It was never meant to undermine your leadership of the Pacific’s premier institution, nor is it directed at any member of the Pacific community.
“Allow me Secretary General to clarify the reasons for Kiribati’s inability to participate at the 51st Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting and why we could not sign on to the Suva Agreement.
“Firstly, Kiribati remains concerned by our collective inability and to some degree, our reluctance as a region to address the core concerns outlined in the Mekreos Communique in relation to the Gentlemen’s agreement.”
The above are selected excerpts from Mr. Maamau’s letter to the Secretary General. The emotionally charged letter confirmed that last year’s dispute over the PIF Secretary General’s position, which led to Micronesian nations pulling out from the Forum, is far from over.
Prime Minister Fiame has expressed concern at the implications that this latest setback will have on the region.
In an article (Kiribati’s exit ‘not an ideal situation’: Fiame) in the Tuesday 12 July 2022 edition of the Samoa Observer, Samoa’s head of Government told this newspaper in Fiji that she had concerns about Kiribati when she attended a regional meeting in Suva last month.
“[It's] not an ideal situation and I think earlier on here for the Suva meeting last month there was concern that Kiribati wasn’t engaging, hadn’t been engaging for a while,” Fiame said. “When we had the foreign affairs meeting we actually raised it, it might be something that we need to pay attention to, either through Ministers of Foreign Affairs which was a preparatory meeting for the leaders or for the leaders for themselves to give some attention leading up to this meeting, we tabled that last week.
“With this announcement I think our concerns were valid.”
So where does the region go from here with the cracks in our regional unity growing larger by the day? In the last 48-hours, we hear Nauru has pulled out as well as the Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands.
But how can our island neighbours skip the most important PIF Leaders Meeting in years where climate change, COVID-19 and geopolitics are high on the agenda and agreeing to strong regional positions on each one of these issues is considered essential for our different nations’ future wellbeing and prosperity?
Aren’t we all in this together and aren’t we stronger together as a region speaking with one voice on issues that affect us all?
Our Prime Minister has in recent months been leading the call for the region to address the Pacific’s development challenges using the Forum and as a vulnerable island nation we see the rationale in the position she has taken.
So how does the PIF and its membership resolve the Secretary General position issue that has led to much acrimony over the last two years and now triggered the exit of a PIF member? No doubt the region’s leadership will need to dedicate another talanoa session to finding a way forward to bringing Kiribati back into the fold of the Pacific family.
But as leaders of island nations, you walk on the sandy shore and look beyond the sun setting on the horizon, realising how a lone fisher has been stationary the last few hours, not quitting on his prized catch for the sake of his aiga (family).
That level of expectation from your family and your people comes naturally – as leaders of the Pacific Blue invoke your mandate and do what is right for them.
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