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Reporting SDG progress
OUR islands of the Pacific are truly heaven on earth if the reading of their recent reporting to the United Nations on progress made on advancing the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development is to be believed. Most, if not all of them, reported achieving universal access to education and health for their people.

Palau for instance, told the UN High Political Forum that its citizens enjoy universal access to water and a lot of strides have also been made towards reducing poverty amidst a growing economy. Meanwhile Vanuatu told the UN forum that it has introduced a number of national policies that aim to enforce gender equality, promote disability inclusivity, enable child online protection and mainstream gender and women’s empowerment.

 

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There’s less than a month to go until the results of the independent investigation into allegations of abuse and mismanagement at the University of the South Pacific are to be delivered. The details of the Terms of Reference for the investigation have not been made public, and it is unclear whether staff and students will have a chance to make submissions. Meanwhile USP students across the region are about to start studying for their second trimester exams. The university’s leadership and member states owe it to them to ensure the that the investigation is robust, free of political interference and transparent.

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Keep the China/Taiwan spat in check

THE controversy surrounding the ejection of China’s head of delegation from a meeting between Pacific leaders and donor partners at the 49th Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru was unfortunate as much as it was avertable.

Of course in saying that, we are not attempting to condone the seemingly unruly and disrespectful behaviour of the  Chinese diplomat when he reportedly hijacked the discussions at the Forum Dialogue to complain bitterly about the way his delegation had been treated by the host country. His so called crime was that he spoke when it was not his turn to speak, and some say, refused to stop his intervention when told to do so by the chair.

Yes there were other ways and avenues the disgruntled delegate could have followed to raise his grievances.

Yes he could have personally raised his government’s concerns directly with the Forum chair or with the secretary general of the Forum, without the need to be dramatic about it by shouting and stormed around the conference hall before making his exit.

Or he could have got his key allies in the Pacific, and there are quite a few of them, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa to name but three, to address this matter swiftly and amicably.

In fact the latter did take place, according to people close to the matter under discussion. Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama telephoned (as he was in Fiji and did not attend the summit) the host of the Forum and President of Nauru, Baron Waqa to convey Beijing’s displeasure at the way their delegation had been treated.

Samoa’s Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Neioti Aiono Sailele Malielegao also weighted into the disputation by sending off a strongly-worded letter to Waqa and threatening to call off the summit if the Chinese delegation were not accorded the same courtesies as the rest of them. This letter was dispatched a day or two before the actual Forum proper began, so he was still the Forum chair.

Papua New Guinea on the other hand voted with its feet so to speak. The treatment of the Chinese delegation was given as one of the reasons Prime Minister Peter O’Neil opted to – like Fiji’s Bainimarama – give this year’s Forum a miss, sending instead his foreign minister Rimbink Pato.

But all these theatrics, if we can call it that, are in our view unnecessary and avoidable. You cannot really blame China if you start shifting the proverbial goal post midway through the game, or actually a few days before leaders were due to arrive in Nauru for their annual conclave. You do not issue guests with their entry visa only to inform them a few weeks later that the issuance was a mistake and that it would be withdrawn, which practically meant that all members of the Chinese delegation to the 49th Forum had to travel without their diplomatic passports and would be treated like any ordinary visitor to Nauru, stripped of all the VIP courtesies and privileges.

You also do not change the speaking rules at the eleventh hour by telling China that they are not entitled to address the meeting because their delegation head is not a cabinet minister and accordingly, non-ministers ouught to submit their presentations to the chair and are not entitled to address leaders.

One does not fly thousands of kilometres from Beijing to the tiny island in the Pacific Ocean only to be told that they have been stripped of their VIP status and would not be able to address the meeting! It is no wonder the head of delegation for China was exasperated if not bitterly annoyed.

No one needs to be Enstein to guess the reasons behind this poor treatment. Nauru, as host of this year’s Forum recognises not China but Taiwan. The auditorium in which the leaders were meeting in Nauru was built by Taiwan. In fact the Boeing 737-200 jets that flew in many of the Forum delegates were also donated by Taiwan.

Be that at it may, no government delegation ought to be treated in such an appalling if not mediocre way.

When a group of Pacific journalists (including the editor of this magazine) were detained at Jackson International Airport as they arrived for the 46th Pacific Islands Forum that Papua New Guinea was hosting in 2015 because they did not have the journalist visa on their passports, a call was made for the Forum Secretariat to work on a template that features minimum standard requirements all interested hosts of the Forum must agree to and abide by.

Waiving journalist visa should be included in that template. So should be the offering of VIP courtesies and privileges to all state delegations.

Taipei may find Beijing contemptible but both capitals are long standing donors and therefore partners of the 19 countries and territories that are members of the Pacific Islands Forum, and much as they disliked each other, both have a place and role in our part of the Ocean.

With another ally of Taiwan, Tuvalu destined to host next year’s 50th Forum Leaders’ summit, no one can rule out the likelihood of this on-going spat between the two Chinas to reach the shores of Funafuti. And we should not expect such diplomatic tit for tat to end unless a hosting of the Pacific Island Forum’s minimum standard requirement template is adopted and strictly adhered to.

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It is hard to believe that in a region surrounded by sea, legislation has not been created, or enforced if they exist to ensure greater protection for those who travel between the islands.

THE sinking of the Kiribati inter-island carrier, Buti Raoi, will go down in history as one of the Pacific’s greatest disasters at sea. Because it will take time to determine how many people were aboard the wooden catamaran, it is possible that as many as 90 people perished when the tiny craft sank between Nonouti and Betio.

The most tragic aspect of this event is – that like many disasters before – this tragedy could have been avoided. In ports around the Pacific vessels of all shapes and sizes put to sea for treacherous journeys without the slightest regard for passenger safety. Many of these craft are dangerously overloaded with freight and crew, carry no two-way radio, flares, medical kits or emergency supplies of life jackets.

Yet they travel hundreds of miles, sometimes far from the sight of any who might afford help in the event of an emergency. Maritime authorities and police in most island countries lack the resources to effectively enforce the rules – where they exist – to ensure compliance with safety measures.

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Vanuatu teaches region lesson in governance

WHILE October was a tumultuous month for the people of Vanuatu, events in the former condominium taught the region valuable lessons in governance.
Across the Pacific, people reacted with incredulity to news that Speaker Marcellino Pipite had used temporary executive powers to pardon himself and 13 Members of Parliament.
 
His attempt to subvert the law came just days before the MPs were to be sentenced after being found guilty of accepting bribes amounting to Vatu 35million or around USD$319,000.
 
In accepting the bribes the men – including Deputy Prime Minister Moana Carcasses – had agreed to support an opposition vote of no confidence which toppled the previous government. They faced up to 10 years in jail.
 
All it took was the absence of President Baldwin Lonsdale in Samoa for the guilty group to take matters into their own hands.
 
Pipite’s attempt to circumvent the law made a mockery of a republic which has been a model of democracy since its independence in 1980. This republic of 260,000 people has had five prime ministers between 2009 and 2015.
 
Votes of no confidence and changes of government have been all too common but parliamentary democracy has prevailed and civil unrest has been minimal. In this most recent case, democracy has prevailed again.
 
On his return from Samoa, President Lonsdale immediately took hold of the situation, upheld the constitution and sent the errant speaker and MPs to jail. He said Pipite had disregarded Vanuatu’s constitution and used his temporary executive powers to pervert the course of justice.
 
Lonsdale said pardons only applied to people who had already been sent to jail. He has now given the government of Prime Minister Sato Kilman and the opposition limited time to bring the situation under control.
 
There can be no doubt that Baldwin intends to ensure that the government and the republic uphold Vanuatu’s supreme law – the constitution. By playing free online pokies you get many benefits. Firstly, such a game does not cost you a cent and most online casinos do not even ask for registration. Secondly, such slot machines greatly improve your skills. Unlimited bankroll allows you to play free pokies games with different bet sizes by analyzing the payout rate. As a result, pokies for free refine your playstyle before you test it in real games. Finally, you don’t need to worry about casino bankroll so sit back and enjoy every spin. Over the past years, free pokies have appeared in every casino and you will have no problem finding them anytime!
 
In 35 years as an independent nation, Vanuatu has put many Pacific neighbours to shame. While many regional governments have run rough-shod over their people and the law for political gain and selfinterest, Vanuatu has maintained a dignity marred only by this incident.
 
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Embrace inclusivity, reject exclusivity

WHEN the Pacific Islands Development Forum ejected West Papuan activist Octavianus Mote from its summit in Suva, Fiji, it missed an opportunity to show it was an inclusive regional organisation.

Instead of taking an approach which would signal a rethinking of international détente, it chose to be a regional bully, an exclusive club.

It is now no different to the governments or organisations of which its membership has been so critical. When the Pacific Islands Development Forum became – the world’s newest international organisation – it did so with much fanfare.

Proponents of the organisation claimed that it would differ from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in two key areas: n It would not be swayed by external players (particularly Australia and New Zealand).

It would take an inclusive approach when dealing with its members.

At its summit in September, the PIDF was put to the test and failed dismally.

The Solomon Islands Government delegation included Mote – an activist for West Papuan self-determination who lives in exile in the United States after his life was threatened by Indonesian security forces.

This is a practice accepted by governments throughout the world and at international meetings including COP 20 in Lima, Peru.

Indeed, the Fiji Government has regularly used non-government organisation staff at such meetings to provide expert technical advice to official delegates. In Suva, the Fijian Government objected to Mote’s presence and Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola was sent to seek the removal of the activist.

Mote complied to ensure there would be no damage to Fiji-Solomon Islands bilateral relations.

There can be no doubt that Mote’s removal was instigated by Indonesia which put pressure on the PIDF chair. By bowing to Indonesian influence, the PIDF chair allowed the organisation to become a puppet of those who hold its purse strings.

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Friends and foes in a new frontier

INDIA’S forum for Pacific leaders in Jaipur last month came at an opportune time for regional heads of government and pre-empted their meeting in Port Moresby. Held just over a year after Narendra Modi’s whirlwind tour of the Pacific, the talks set a perfect platform to address the critical matters of climate change, security, development and self-determination.

There can be little doubt that India sees itself as a major player, indeed an emerging global power, in the world of geopolitics. It has set its sights on a seat in the United Nations Security Council and Fiji’s Rear-Admiral Frank Bainimarama has publicly expressed his country’s support for India. At the Forum for India Pacific Islands Cooperation, Modi openly courted leaders: “Your support for India’s permanent membership of the Security Council will give the United Nations the global character and balance that mirrors our age.”

In return he promised to support the bid for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to have a dedicated seat in a larger Security Council. Behind this international quid pro quo is of course the battle of supremacy for the Pacific Ocean and its vast resources. China has labelled the Pacific as the New Silk Route, referring to the wealth of fish stocks in the ocean, the possible mineral resources on its floor, the food and timber throughout the region and the extractable riches beneath the ground. With Indonesia and some of the Gulf states, China has promised to fund the Pacific Islands Development Forum which meets in Suva, Fiji this month.

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• We Say is compiled with the oversight of the editor on editor@islandsbusiness.com

 

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