Jul 22, 2019 Last Updated 10:14 PM, Jul 21, 2019

WITH the leak of a damaging internal report about the University of the South Pacific, which details allegations of widespread abuse and questionable appointments—including speedy promotions and the unilateral renewal of certain staff contracts—does the future of the regional institution hang in the balance?

It’s an emphatic yes if you ask Winston Thompson, retired Fijian diplomat and current Pro Chancellor of the USP. He believes that in Professor Pal Ahluwalia, USP’s new Vice Chancellor and President, the USP is not in safe hands.

“Do you want to sack him,” Islands Business asked Ambassador Thompson in a recent interview.

“Yes I want to,” he replied.

“Do you have the powers to sack him,” IB asked.

“No I don’t,” was the response.

“But didn’t you head the committee that selected Professor Ahluwalia in the first place,” we asked.

“Yes, that’s the unfortunate thing,” answered Thompson, before adding: “But this was before this other trait of him was noticed.”

Professor Ahluwalia is the author of the report that makes a....

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Not for sale

FIJI’S iconic flower, the Tagimoucia, is not for sale. Fijian authorities have made this statement to Islands Business magazine following reports that a world-leading botanical garden is looking at taking the Tagimoucia flower to Asia and adding it to the collection at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.

The Tagimoucia has deep cultural and historical significance in Fiji. Sacred to the people of Fiji’s northern provinces of Bua and Cakaudrove, especially to the people of Taveuni, it is an endemic flowering vine that grows only on the highlands of Taveuni, particularly on the sloping forests that lead up to Lake Tagimoucia and the upper slopes of Mount Seatura, in Bua, Vanua Levu.

For these communities, the Tagimoucia symbolises beauty and uniqueness, and is the subject of songs and legends and a great deal of pride. The flower formed the bouquet presented to England’s Queen Elizabeth the three times she has toured Fiji, and its likeness was included in the embroidery on the Dutchess of Sussex’s wedding veil when she married Prince Harry last year.

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A murky mix of vested interests

  • Jul 23, 2019
  • Published in March

AN oil spill in Rennell, Solomon Islands is turning into a disaster of catastrophic proportions, threatening the world’s biggest raised coral atoll and prompting caretaker Prime Minister Rick Hou to call for a review of environmental and mining laws on the eve of the national elections.

The spill began when the ship, the MV Solomon Trader ran aground a reef whilst loading mined bauxite in the area on February 5. The vessel, which was carrying nearly 11,000 tonnes of bauxite at the time, is owned by Hong Kong company King Trader and was chartered by Indonesian-based Bintan Mining to ship bauxite from its mining operations to China. Bintan, which is mining under contract from Asia Pacific Investment Development (APID) the mining lease holder, has already distanced itself from any liability for the spill, and allegedly continued to load bauxite even as the oil spread.

In mid-March authorities were reporting 70 tonnes of oil had been spilt. Approximately 600 tonnes of oil remained inside the ship, although it is now being transferred to safe tanks on a tank barge which had been sent from Vanuatu. Now the ship’s insurer, Korea Protection and Indemnity Club, says the spilled load may be greater than original estimated.

The MV Solomon Trader spill is on the doorstep of the Rennell Islands UNESCO World Heritage site, a 37,000-ha land and marine area extending three nautical miles to sea. UNESCO calls the site a true natural laboratory for scientific study, but says it is vulnerable to threats including mining and logging. “The ability of the traditional owners to adequately protect and manage the natural values and resources of the property is limited by a lack of funding, capacity and resources,” UNESCO says.

The spill has not only affected the livelihood of more than 300 people living in communities and villages in the area  who cannot eat seafood, their main source of protein-but it has also threatened to destroy one of the country’s most important natural habitats.

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Will the decision by the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) to become the world’s first country to issue its own blockchain sovereign cryptocurrency (SOV) be a momentous game changer? Or is it just another pie in the sky project that jumped the gun?

Already, it has had its share of sceptics. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its latest Article IV consultation with RMI (report released in September last year), likened the move to issuing ‘helicopter money’, a term coined in the 1960s by American economist Milton Friedman to describe a hypothetical monetary policy that involves printing large sums of money and distributing it to the public to stimulate the economy.

The IMF concern stems from the RMI’s plans to distribute a portion of the SOV units free to Marshallese and to a number of RMI trust funds, once it is approved for distribution.

Devoting a significant section of its report specifically to the RMI’s SOV project, the IMF cautioned the U.S. compact country of the many risks associated with the planned issuance, among them monetary instability and macroeconomic challenges.

“Considering the significant risks, (IMF staff) recommends that the authorities seriously reconsider the issuance of the digital currency as legal tender,” IMF’s report noted. “The potential benefits from revenue gains appear considerably smaller than the potential costs arising from economic, reputational, AM/CFT, and governance risks. While technology may help to address some of these risks, others would need to be mitigated through institutional changes. Furthermore, the use of SOV as a means of exchange in transactions would require significant additional costs to upgrade RMI’s telecommunications infrastructure.”

Those who work with blockchain technology in the Pacific feel it may be a little too early, although they will be keeping a close watch on the initiative.

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The blockchain conversation has finally touched down in the Pacific. Not only is it a major buzz in tech circles here, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is about to take a technological leap in becoming the first country in the region to create a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for blockchain development.

Behind that initiative is PNG born but Silicon Valley based tech venture capitalist Shane Ninai with the backing of US billionaire Tim Draper.

They are bringing the blockchain fever to a country where more and more young IT professionals are exploring the technology, described as so revolutionary it is a potential game changer for emerging economies around the world.

Although the bill to set up the SEZ is the subject of controversy locally, the project no doubt adds to the growing interest from companies, organisations Blockchain finds a home in the Pacific and individuals in the Pacific to explore what’s on offer in the blockchain space.

This is the technology that created what is known as cryptocurrency, the latest craze in the global technology world.

You would have a clue as to what cryptocurrency is if you’ve heard of something called bitcoin, which is described as ‘electronic cash’ used over the Internet to buy and sell.

When this edition went to press, one bitcoin was equivalent to Kina 20,880, F$13,763, AU$9060 and US$6416 to give you some idea of its value. What can you buy with bitcoin? 

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