Oct 18, 2017 Last Updated 12:43 AM, Oct 5, 2017

LATE last month Papua New Guinea returned the government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to power – albeit with a much smaller majority. At the same time the people of the Pacific’s largest democracy removed three women Members of Parliament.

This despite the fact that a record 167 women stood for election. Now moves are afoot to impeach O’Neill who has been under pressure from political rivals, anti-corruption advocates and law enforcement agencies for several years.

In Tonga a legally elected government has been ordered by King Tupou VI to stand down and prepare for fresh elections after apparent discontent among the electorate. The Solomon Islands will soon go to the polls and campaigning in the Fiji elections schedules for next year has started in earnest with the Opposition and ruling parties courting voters.

In Fiji soldier-turned Prime Minister Rear-Admiral Frank Bainimarama addressed the Methodist Church Conference and told its leadership not to use the pulpit for political gains. Days later he addressed the New Methodist Church – a powerful new religious voice – in the same vein.

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Tony de Brum 1945-2017

... He was a giant of history, a legend in every meaning of the word ...

AT the age of nine, Tony de Brum was fishing at sea with his grandfather when he witnessed an explosion which was the evidence of the Bravo Shot – a thermonuclear test by the United States in the Bikini Atoll.

He would later see first-hand the devastation, grief and human suffering caused by that test and man-made destruction on the environment and to human life. Born in the Ellis Islands – what is now the independent nation of Tuvalu – de Brum would later move home to the Marshall Islands and witness the destruction caused by nature through climate change.

But even climate change, he came to realise, was in essence a manifestation of human greed, lack of responsibility and absence of justice. Perhaps these two key events propelled de Brum to become a fierce advocate for the rights of Pacific islanders from the smaller states and a clarion for the region at international fora.

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Missing cash

WHERE is the $515,000 given by Methodist people from Fiji who now live in New Zealand for the construction of a new home for the head of the church? At the recent Methodist Church in Fiji annual conference, New Zealand observers raised the prickly question and received no satisfactory response from the leadership. Even though the church treasurer has stepped down and will shortly return to the ministry, that fact remains that there is only $35,000 of the original amount donated by New Zealand Fijians in the church coffers. And the home which was to have been built at Davuilevu, Nausori, remains but a bundle of drawings on an architect’s table.

University plans

WHERE is the head of the regional institution who wants to build a university before his retirement? The aged cleric has already convinced his board to amend the retirement age to allow him to stay on. And this only after first removing faculty members in his age group. Now the prospective vice-chancellor is believed to be out of the country on sabbatical as he tries to convince funders and church leaders to fund a new university in the Fijian capital, Suva. But word is that church leaders have had enough and are now ready to concentrate on their own educational institutions.

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Tonga heads to the polls

AS a student at the University of the South Pacific, Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva decided to put an end to what he saw as the corrupt system of governance in his homeland – Tonga. The monarchy and King Tupou IV were at the root of all that was bad about the system which civil servants, members of the nobility and foreigners rorted for personal benefit.

Upon his return to the kingdom, Pohiva launched a series of sustained attacks on the monarchy and corrupt governance systems using national radio as his platform. In 2010, Fiji-educated Dr Feleti Sevele – later Lord Sevele of Vailahi – was appointed the first commoner prime minister of the kingdom by the late King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV. That appointment was largely caused by Pohiva’s agitation for change and the growing strength and anger of the pro-independence movement.

After the election of 2014, Pohiva became minister in 2014 – the first elected commoner to hold the position in 135 years. Today the freedom fighter-turned prime minister is a caretaker, effectively removed from office by a monarch who has found his head of government to be tiresome, bungling and increasingly unpopular. Two years ago it would have been impossible for the king to dismiss Parliament and the prime minister. 

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PNG - land of the mystic

PAPUA New Guinea marks its independence this month, just weeks after the end of elections. This land of contrast with vast amounts of natural resources has been plagued by corruption and violence for decades. As this edition goes to print, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill faces leadership challenges despite his reelection.

Veteran Pacific journalist, JALE MOALA offers this insight into PNG, Land of the Unexpected. Today I bring you two photos to illustrate the complexities of Papua New Guinea. The first is inside the first gate of our living compound in Waigani, a suburb of Port Moresby that is the heart of the government and city administrations.

I took the photo at about 7.30pm on Friday July 7, 10 minutes after men armed with guns had forced their way into the outer perimeter of our compound and held up our security guards while the rest went after my neighbour as he sat in his car waiting for the second gate to open. They forced my neighbour out at gunpoint, took the car and disappeared into the night as quickly as they had come.

The US State Department says that the crime rate in PNG is among the highest in the world. 

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MSG seals deal with Independence group ahead of referendum

THE Melanesian Spearhead Group will take a lead role in a political referendum in New Caledonia next year. MSG Director General, Ambassador Amenatave Yauvoli, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) setting out details of cooperation.

“The FLNKS has asked us to provide technical assistance to them ahead of the referenfum’” Yauvoli said after the Pacific Community meeting in Noumea. “This will deal mainly with the strengthening of capacities within the FLNKS with regard to the administration and organisation of key institutions such as parliament, the judiciary, foreign affairs and defence.” The FLNKS is one of the leading proponents for greater autonomy from France for the people of New Caledonia.

The referendum will decide whether New Caledonia should have greater autonomy within the French Republic. Yauvoli said MSG member countries were willing to help the FLNKS and other New Caledonian political parties to strengthen their capabilities by providing technical assistance.

“The FLNKS has identified lack of capacity within the organisation and the Kanaky community with regards to administration of specific parts of the government,” Yauvoli said.

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UNLESS you are cocooned in a tourist bubble, it is hardly possible to miss God when you visit the Pacific Islands. In every village and on every main street there seems to be a church or temple, packed to bursting point on holy days.

It is testament to the considerable influence of spirituality on the way people live in the Pacific. Yet almost every well-intentioned outside agency – including those of foreign governments such as Australia and the European Union – that seeks to help the region’s people adapt to the effects of future climate change is drawing up its plans in secular ways, and communicates using secular language. Over some 30 years, most such interventions have failed, proving neither effective nor sustainable.

The answer to the question “why” may in part lie in the sidelining of God. At this point, conversations with representatives of donor organisations often become awkward. Why, they ask, should spirituality have any role in a problem like climate-change adaptation or disaster risk management, which is so clearly framed in human, secular terms?

The answer lies in who does the framing. Far fewer people in most donor programs are spiritually engaged than in the Pacific.

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SINCE Tropical Cyclone Winston made its brutal landfall in the country last year, Fiji has doubled its efforts to building back better and tripled its commitment to combat climate change. Keeping in mind the Paris agreement, individuals and organizations both have since then re-affirmed the importance of sustaining and restoring healthy ecosystems, including coastal areas, particularly for climate adaption purposes. Leadership Fiji 2016 (LF2016) and Mangrove for Fiji in this same spirit joined hands in establishing a mangrove restoration project for Malake Island that had to bear the brunt of the storm last year.

In August last year, the two teams visited Malake Island and built a 1000 propagule nursery. Following that, they made a second visit to the island this year and planted a new record of 6085 mangrove propagules along the coastline. Fiji Leadership 2016 representative James Pridgeon said the team chose Malake to initiate the project with because Ra was one of the badly affected areas during the storm.

“Malake is the biggest village in the Province of Ra. They are still rebuilding their homes and lives 15 months later,” he said.

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Academics to provide climate change impact

EXPECT greater consultation between government and academics – at least in Fiji – as preparations begin for the first Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting this year Fiji will host the first lead authors meeting on Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere for the IPPC in October.

“Research and development is the way forward for us” - Joeli Cawaki Assistant Minister for Agriculture, Natural Disaster Management “This is the first time for a small island country to host the working group of IPCC, so we need to invite people to attend for this working group two and be part of the IPCC processes,” he said. “Disaster management, climate change, meteorology and hydrology are more scientific in nature, so we need to build the capacity of our people in terms of the science to strengthen our case, so that is something that we will need to do and engage the academics from all universities in Fiji and around the region.”

The IPCC is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change that reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change.

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Tokelau calls for support

FOR close to 40 years the tiny island nation of Tokelau has been without a local meteorological service. That’s ever since New Zealand withdrew direct funding for the facility in the 1980s.

With the ever increasing threat of climate change, this remote state has made an urgent plea for donor support in order to strengthen its meteorological and climate related services. In an interview with Islands Business during the Second Pacific Ministerial meeting on Meteorology (PMMM-2), Minister for Climate Change, Natural Resources, Economic Development and Environment, Kelihiano Kalolo, stressed the Tokelau’s need for assistance.

“We need funding because we don’t have the infrastructure, we would like to give the information to our people, and we would like to have the infrastructure for the dissemination of information,” he said.

“Tokelau in any other country is very small without capacity and resource and we would like people to help us and the pacific to work together, after all, climate change is affecting all of us.” Alluding to Tokelau’s lack of climate service, information and documentation, Tokelau’s Manager for the Department of Economic Development, Natural Resources and Environment, Loia Tausi, told the Pacific Meteorology Council (PMC) meeting had laid out specific needs of the Tokelau meteorology services, calling on donors present in the room for support.

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Australian, Japanese firms fight over deposits

THIS year marks the 70th year of the end of the war in the Solomons. Yet the battle over natural resources in these islands ended in the courts just months ago and there were no winners.

In fact the biggest loser has been the Solomon Islands in terms of lost opportunities for investment and job creation. The Australian media has tried to portray this as an epic David versus Goliath battle. In this case a small Australian mining company has been stripped of its rights to one of the Pacific’s biggest greenfield nickel laterite deposits, after a decision by the Solomon Islands Court of Appeal.

ASX-listed Axiom Mining has battled long and hard with the Japanese giant, Sumitomo Metal Mining (SMM) Solomon Islands Limited for control of the deposit in Isabel Province. Three overseas judges of the Solomon Islands Court of Appeal quashed ministerial approval of Axiom’s prospecting licences, finding that the transfer of land registration to Axiom’s landowner partners had not been completed properly and so was invalid.

“It is a setback, but it is not a major or material setback from our point of view,” said Axiom Mining’s chief executive officer Ryan Mount. ‘Most important case’ on land since independence.”

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“IF your family is hungry, if there is no food in the kitchen, there will be a problem.” These were the words Anitelu Toe’api, publi relations and communications officer for the Civil Society Forum of Tonga. “If there is no money in the bank account for your family’s needs, there will be a problem,” he continued.

Toe’api was presenting human securaity analysis of the issues civil society groups are addressing through their work during the opening session of a two-day Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) Tonga national consultation hosted by the Talitha Project.

The activity is part of the regional Gender Inclusive Conflict Prevention and Human Security programme of GPPAC Pacific coordinated by femLINKpacific and supported by the Pacific Islands Forum Non State Actors programme funded by the European Union.

Participants include representatives from Naunau ‘o e ‘Alamaite Tonga Association (NATA), Bahai Faith, Civil Society Forum of Tonga, Catholic Church, Assemblies of God International Christian Worship Centre, Ma’a Fafine Mo e Famili, Tonga Trust, Girl Guides, Tonga Family Health Association as well as local government officials.

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