Pacific Forum ready to choose new leader

Leaders from across the Pacific region will convene a virtual meeting next month to decide who will succeed Dame Meg Taylor as the next Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Next month’s virtual meeting, which will be officially called the Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders Retreat, was announced in a statement issued from Funafuti, Tuvalu last Friday.

Two key issues at the center of next month’s special retreat agenda are: the COVID-19 global pandemic and the appointment of the next P.I.F.S. Secretary General following the exit of incumbent, Papua New Guinean Dame Meg.

“The focus of the Special Leaders Retreat will be the COVID-19 pandemic and the appointment of the next Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum,” reads the P.I.F.S. statement.

Chairman of the Forum, Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano, said it was an arduous process trying to schedule the special retreat due to “competing commitments” amongst the leaders of Pacific nations.

“The settlement of a date for the special retreat of the Pacific Islands Forum has been an arduous process given the competing commitments of leaders at the national level,” Prime Minister Natano said. “However, following extensive consultations with colleague leaders, I am pleased to confirm the first week of February for this session.”

A meeting to decide the next Secretary General was scheduled for mid-December, however, a meeting was not scheduled.

In the statement issued last Friday, Prime Minister Natano said he is confident the new Secretary General will be appointed.

“I am confident that we will also appoint the new Secretary General when we meet in February,” he said.

Dame Meg is expected to remain in the position until her successor is appointed.

Lobbying for the top regional position began last year with the different regional sub-groupings as well as countries putting forward their candidates.

In November of 2020 the President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau Jr., wrote to the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi and asked him to vote for Ambassador Gerald Zackios, who is Micronesia’s pick for the position.

President Remengesau said Ambassador Zackios’ appointment is not an issue of individual credentials but of “Pacific unity.”

Five Micronesian states of Palau, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia have signed a communique outlining their reasons for backing Ambassador Zackios, and have threatened to walk out of the Pacific Forum if their candidate is not voted.

But Tuilaepa, in response, said the Micronesian leaders’ position is fair but he does not sympathise with them entirely.

“All candidates vying for the seat are smart and talented and we do not know who is most fitting for the job unless they individually give us descriptive explanations as to why [they] are fit for the job and why they are determined to become the Secretary-General and we will then consider.”

He said as leaders of Pacific nations, they need someone who is most fitting for the job to give them advice on areas they need help with.

As to the threat by the Micronesian nations to leave the Forum, Tuilaepa said it made him laugh.

“If he wants to leave, that is of his prerogative, but in things like this, one should never be quick to anger.”

In the history of the Forum, only one Micronesian has ever been appointed Secretary General, he was Kiribati’s first president Sir Ieremia Tabai, who was appointed to the Suva-based position 29 years ago in 1992.

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