Jul 07, 2020 Last Updated 11:48 AM, Jul 5, 2020
June

June (16)

Kiribati gave Taneti Maamau a resounding victory at the island nation’s presidential poll on 22 June, rewarding him with a second and final four-year term.

As the ruling Tobwaan Kiribati Party (TKP) leader, Maamau polled 26,053 votes, about 59 per cent of total vote cast. His rival Banuera Berina of the Boutokaan Kiribati Moa managed 17,866 votes, winning majority votes in only seven out of the 23 constituencies.

Berina who was chairman of the TKP until he crossed the floor to the opposition late last year was no match it appears to the promises of huge cash bonuses Maamau offered voters.

The opposition gamble of putting up as their candidate someone who had been in the same party as Maamau backfired, although there are others who would argue that the opposition didn’t have much of a choice after its leader Titabu Tabane lost his seat in the parliamentary elections in April.

Read more in the latest Islands Business.

 

Tuvalu has asked Pacific Leaders to consider deferring the formal appointment of the new Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum until a face-to-face meeting next year.

Islands Business is aware of four candidates for the role; Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, Marshall Islands Ambassador to the US, Gerald Zackios, international civil servant to the UN and regional organisations, Tonga's Amelia Kinahoi Siamomua and former Pacific Community (SPC) Secretary General, Solomon Islander Dr Jimmie Rodgers.

However  Pacnews reports  that Tuvalu Prime Minister and chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Kausea Natano has written to Leaders asking them to accept a proposal by Vanuatu to defer the formal, face-to-face session Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting to 2021 – to be hosted by government of Fiji.

Natano is requesting a virtual Special Forum Leaders Retreat later this year to consider the ongoing impacts of the COVID19 pandemic on the region and Vanuatu’s offer to host the annual Leaders meeting in 2023.

The contract of current Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor expires at the end of this year, but Leaders could extend it until they meet face-to-face next year.  Alternatively they could vote for one of the four contenders. The jockeying has already begun.

Sharks are iconic in the cultures, beliefs and traditions of Pacific people. Their sense of identity of place is reinforced through totems. From Kiribati, Solomon Islands to Fiji and across the Pacific, shark legends and tales make up the rich cultural fabric that is their heritage.

Sharks and their close relatives, the rays, are also just as important as well for food security, by maintaining the healthy reef systems so many Pacific peoples rely on for protein and income.

However, despite this cultural and economic value, some species are facing extinction and these threats stem from several factors.

While there are 1,250 diverse species of sharks and rays, (with new ones still being discovered quite regularly), sharks are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by humans. They reproduce slowly, they are slow to reach sexual maturity and have low reproduction rates. As an extreme case is the Greenland shark that can live up to 400 years and doesn’t reach sexual maturity until it is 150 years old. Sharks also average between 9-12 month pregnancies. The Greeneye Dogfish has the longest recorded pregnancy at 31 months, with sharks known to reproduce every one to two years.

Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year and many populations continue to decline at an alarming rate.

But by far the biggest threat to sharks and rays is overfishing, which has driven several species to close to extinction. Other species are on the verge of disappearing forever, as indicated by the IUCN Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species.

It is conservatively estimated that each year globally, 100 million sharks are killed in commercial fisheries.

WWF and TRAFFIC, a non-governmental organisation working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development collaborate on a joint global shark and ray conservation programme called Sharks: Restoring the Balance. It is headed by Andy Cornish, who has previously worked for the Department of Fish and Wildlife  Resources in American Samoa. "We've focused on three areas; improving management, trying to improve the responsibility of the international trade in shark and ray parts, and on consumption, so trying to reduce unsustainable consumption of shark fin and shark meat," Cornish said.

Cornish says while there are some targeted fisheries for sharks, in many cases sharks and rays are part of the intended catch targeting a wider range of species as it happens with gillnet and long line fisheries. Cornish says because management efforts usually centre on “high value” fisheries such as tuna; shark and rays are not as well managed.

“As a result of this almost unregulated fishing, overfishing is widespread and sharks are really in terrible state at the moment. Populations are declining in most of the places where they occur. Since 2014 when we started this programme, things have gotten a lot worse. For example, when we started according to the IUCN Red List, 25 species were critically endangered, that’s one step away from extinction. You need to have populations decline by more than 90% for them to be categorised as critically endangered. Fast forward to the present and we have 42 species that are critically endangered and a whole bunch doing worse than six years ago. This is what we mean when we’re talking about the shark crisis.”

WWF’s work in the region includes advocating for improved management measures at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), and supporting the development of National Plans of Action for sharks (often including Marine Protected Areas) at national levels. It has also worked on responsible shark and ray tourism, releasing a guide to best practice several years ago, and working with tourism operators in Fiji.

WWF-Pacific’s Sustainable Fisheries and Seafood programme manager, Duncan Williams, adds that in the Pacific, WWF have supported the development of a by catch training manual with the Fiji Maritime Academy to ensure crew onboard fishing vessels have a better understanding of shark bycatch issues and how to mitigate this. “We are in the process of developing bycatch awareness and reference materials for fishermen to help reduce the threat of bycatch. More recently, WWF-Pacific has undertaken market surveys in PNG and catch surveys in key shark breeding and nursery areas in Fiji to inform national efforts to better protect, in particular, endangered or threatened species and habitats which are critical for their recovery and long-term sustainability.”

Andrew Paris is a consultant obtaining data on inshore shark species in Dreketi, Vanua Levu, Fiji. “The research work was the first assessment on the distribution and abundance of shark and ray species along the Dreketi River and estuary,” Paris says. “The area has been known as a hotspot for juvenile shark and ray species by local communities. The study also allowed us to map the areas along the river and estuary most frequented by these species. Vanua Levu is a place known for an intimate relationship with sharks yet there is very little scientific research on these species here.”

The research team has captured species biodata, including species, length, sex and umbilical scar condition. DNA samples were also collected for further analysis on species kinship. 

“It is my hope that the research adds to the growing discourse on the distribution and abundance of sharks in Fiji with a view to emphasise the abundance of sharks and rays in Fiji we have,” Paris said.

“Research in Rewa, Sigatoka, Ba and now Dreketi are showing that certain species of shark and ray are found in high numbers along these estuarine areas. More so for certain species of shark such as the scalloped hammerhead, the great hammerhead and the bull shark which are found to use these sites as pupping grounds. My ultimate goal would be for either the species or for these essential shark and ray habitats to be afforded greater protections and conservation status.”

Cornish says while reef shark populations in the Pacific are in a better state than most parts of the world, thanks in part to large shark sanctuaries in Palau, Cook Islands and elsewhere, oceanic shark species need a lot more attention, and that this should happen at both national and regional levels.

“The oceanic whitetip shark used to be the most common shark species in the open ocean. Their official stock assessment shows that the oceanic whitetips have gone down 95%, they’ve just totally crashed, and it’s mostly due to longline fishing for tuna by the various fleets. The stock assessment itself says that if that situation continues, that species will probably go extinct.

“I don’t think people realize just how bad the situation with some of these shark species is. Some of the Pacific Islands such as Fiji and Palau, have really acted as champions for shark conservation. Palau was the first place to declare a shark sanctuary and to market themselves as the shark diving capital of the world, and they have been enjoying a lot of benefits from that. Fiji, led a group of nations in proposing that the devil rays, which are related to manta rays and are being overfished, be listed on the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix 2.  So there are some good examples of leadership, and I think it will be really good to see some of these Pacific nations really encouraging the WCPFC to get more serious about recovering these really major shark populations at the moment.”

Japan-based Dr. Shelley Clarke has worked with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) to lead assessment for silky and whale sharks. She spent more than three years at the WCPFC working on tuna, shark bycatch, and sea turtle data sharing, research and management initiatives.

In December 2019 the WCPFC member states adopted an updated comprehensive Conservation and Management Measures (CMM) for sharks.  Dr Clarke said the CMM pulls together a number of previously-introduced measures into one package. “Having a streamlined management measure that’s all very clearly laid out in one place and everybody can find, benefits everybody. It promotes understanding and is a good thing.”

Dr Clarke believes a heightened appreciation of the value of sharks could improve their management, commensurate with the way tuna and other target species are understood. “It’s one of the most useful fish that we catch. It can be used for a number of different things, not just luxury food items like fin but it’s very much used in a variety of fish-based products. And so, it’s an important food source and it can also be used for its oil, for its cartilage or its skin, so it’s actually a very important marine resource, and I think, in that sense, we really need to be doing a better job to manage it than we have up until now.”

Dr Clarke said living up to the commitments outlined in the existing measures is now key. “I would start with data provision. For sharks, our data is really so poor, and in fact some of the measures that we’ve adopted actually make the data sets worse. So, when we’re trying to make a science based argument that we need to do something to conserve this species, we’re really just being undermined by the poor quality data and the lack of the data.”

The updated CMM includes a “fins-naturally-attached” policy, which is the most effective way to eliminate shark finning at sea. It will be in place in 2020-2022.

In 2006, the WCPFC adopted its first measure to discourage the removal of fins from sharks at sea. Fishermen know they can get a good price for a fin in the Chinese market, and in order to save space on their boat for more valuable species, they’ll cut the fins off the shark and throw the shark back in the water, either alive or dead. The “fins naturally-attached” means sharks are brought back to land in one piece without their fins cut off. It is intended to discourage targeted shark catch for the sole purpose of obtaining fins, reduces enforcement burden and allows fisheries managers gain a better understanding of the impact that industrial fishing is having on specific shark species.

WWF cautions there is still a way to go. The CMM also includes a set of alternative measures to this policy that member states can implement instead, creating a greater burden on enforcement and monitoring and “likely limiting the policy’s effectiveness”. WCPFC Member states have failed to approve an effective ban on wire traces, which is a proven method for reducing shark mortality. But it acknowledges the commission’s adoption– and if needed, update – of the Shark Safe Release Guidelines to further minimise bycatch-related mortality. A catch and retention ban will remain in place for the oceanic whitetip and silky sharks.

“A lot of work remains to be done to set WCPFC on a path towards responsible shark management. If implemented effectively, the CMM could become a base to build upon for all species. Nonetheless, the CMM in itself does not equate to responsible management, in particular for the already heavily depleted species,” WWF said.  

This content is sponsored by WWF and was produced with their assistance.

When University of the South Pacific Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Pal Ahluwalia walked back onto USP’s Suva campus on June 22, he was accompanied by songs of celebration from staff and students who lined the path to his office.

The embattled VC was returning to his office three days after the full USP Council had reinstated him, at a meeting called on the insistence of USP governments, resolving that “it was not persuaded that due process was followed in [his] suspension”.

Two weeks earlier on June 8, an Executive Committee of the Council had suspended Professor Ahluwalia from duties with pay so that “an independent investigation”  into allegations against him could be conducted.  The Committee appointed Professor Derrick Armstrong as Acting Vice-Chancellor and President to manage the affairs of the University.

It was the latest salvo in a conflict that has come as the university has struggled to retain its place as a cradle of learning for future Pacific leaders, to recruit, retain and nurture academic staff, continue to deliver courses and support students through COVID-19,  put regionalism into practice, ensure it remains relevant and stay financially afloat. 

And while the reinstatement of Vice Chancellor Ahluwalia has brought joy and a sense of vindication to many staff and students, who see it as a victory for good governance, activism and regional unity, the matter is far from over.

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“We call for the immediate suspension of the individuals who are holding current positions at USP and further investigation about the matter,” demands a petition being circulated on the internet a day or so after the governing body of the university, the USP Council ordered the reinstatement of its vice chancellor and president, Professor Pal Ahluwalia.

Just 24 hours after its online launch, the petition had already collected more than 700 signatures. Its sponsor Dr Rohitesh Chandra, is a former lecturer of the university. “Immediate suspension of individuals implicated in the BDO Report on mismanagement at USP” was the petition’s headline.

Dr Chandra and supporters of the petition plan to submit it to the incoming Chancellor of the USP, President Lionel Aingimea of Nauru. It stems from fears that while the Council had returned Professor Ahluwalia to his role, it had left or so it appears, controversial Pro Chancellor Winston Thompson of Fiji alone, as well as the 25 senior managers, and academics and support staff who were named in the BDO audit report.

Equally worrying for supporters of transparency and good governance at the university was the sudden change in the position of the Fijian Government at the June 19 special Council meeting. Going into the meeting as the biggest supporter – and sponsor some would even argue – of moves to oust Professor Ahluwalia, Fiji’s education minister Rosie Akbar startled the meeting when she asked that the motion to reinstate the vice chancellor – who had been suspended by her and other members of the Council’s executive committee just one week earlier – be carried without the need for a vote.

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In French Polynesia, long-time independence leader Oscar Manutahi Temaru is again locked in battle with the French legal system. Last month, Temaru launched a two-week hunger strike, in protest over the seizure of his personal finances by French prosecutor Hervé Leroy.

For French authorities, the latest actions are part of a long-running case over the funding of the pro-independence radio station Radio Tefana by the municipality of Faa’a, where Temaru has been mayor for nearly 40 years. In contrast, Temaru sees the actions of French judicial authorities as political rather than legal – payback for his protests on decolonisation and nuclear testing that have embarrassed successive French leaders.

In October 2018, Temaru lodged a complaint before the International Criminal Court, accusing the French state of committing a crime against humanity, through France’s nuclear weapons testing program in the Pacific (between 1966 and 1996, France conducted 193 atmospheric and underground nuclear tests at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls). At the time, Temaru said: “This case aims to hold all the living French presidents accountable for the nuclear tests against our country.”

Since then, he has faced a series of legal battles and accusations of corruption, that have tied up the veteran politician in legal red-tape.

Legal battles continue

In 2019, Temaru was given a six-month suspended prison sentence and was fined $US50,000 for exercising so-called undue influence. The court found that financial support from Faa’a town council to Radio Tefana benefitted the independence party Tavini Huiraatira no Te Ao Maohi, which Temaru has led since its founding.

Across the francophone Pacific, it’s common for local and territorial governments to fund independent community radio stations, to broaden public debate beyond the state-run French radio and TV stations. Both supporters and opponents of independence commonly provide grants to radio stations, such as Radio RRB and Radio Djiido in New Caledonia, or Radio Tefana and Radio Maohi in Tahiti. Temaru’s supporters note that the regulation of such funding is unevenly enforced, with differing penalties for breaches (French Polynesia’s current president Edouard Fritch received a much lighter penalty in 2016, when the municipality of Pirae was criticised for funding Radio Maohi).

Despite this, French prosecutor Herve Leroy re-opened Temaru’s case in September last year, asserting that he had misspent taxpayer funds, because the Faa’a municipal council had funded his defence during the 2019 court case over the community radio station.

Last month, Temaru was again called before the court, and on 4 June, prosecutor Leroy ordered the seizure of 11.5 million French Pacific Francs (US$108,000) from Temaru’s personal bank account. Leroy stated: “This step, known as ‘value confiscation’, has allowed us to seize the exact amount of public funds improperly charged to the budget of the municipality of Faa'a for legal fees and expenses in the case for which he was prosecuted and convicted at first instance.”

Launching a hunger strike on 8 June, Temaru argued that because the 2019 case was still on appeal, the prosecutor had violated the presumption of innocence. Seeking a judicial review of Leroy’s actions, Temaru stated: “He shows no respect. I’ve been Mayor of Faa’a for 37 years and I’m as white as snow…He only has one objective, and that’s to blacken the name of me and my family. The intention behind all this is to assassinate me politically. I would prefer that he just grabs a pistol and kills me, then we won’t have to talk about it anymore.”

Moetai Brotherson represents French Polynesia in the French National Assembly in Paris. A member of Tavini Huiraatira, Brotherson told Islands Business that the case was politically motivated.

“It’s the latest episode of a very sad witch hunt that has been undertaken by the French prosecutor here,” he said. “In the latest instalment, they have decided to seize all of Mr. Temaru’s savings from his bank account. They are saying that it’s a preventative measure because they are fearing that he might flee the country or dissipate this money.”

Questioning why funds from a personal account were seized, rather than from his lawyers, Brotherson ridiculed the suggestion from French authorities that Temaru might flee the jurisdiction.

“This is totally ridiculous, of course,” he said. “Mr. Temaru was born here, his whole family is here. He is Mayor of Faa’a and has been Mayor of Faa’a for 37 years now. So, he’s not going anywhere – especially without planes [due to COVID lockdown]. He doesn’t want to go anywhere. He’s always turned up to when he’s been asked to appear before the French courts. This is ridiculous and it’s only an attempt at intimidation.”

Legal impartiality

The dispute highlights the nature of colonial control over legal structures in France’s overseas collectivities. Unlike the local Government of French Polynesia, which holds a level of legislative and administrative authority under the 2004 Statute of Autonomy, local commun or municipal town councils are still controlled by the French State. Authorities in Paris determine the timing of local government elections and French law applies to the regulation and management of town councils. All French nationals can vote in municipal elections.

This year, for example, Paris delayed the second round of scheduled council elections in March due to the coronavirus crisis. This angered local politicians in French Polynesia, who argued that conditions in Tahiti were different to those in France, which has suffered more than 160,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 30,000 deaths.

The debate over the autonomy of municipal government has raged for decades, especially as many public services jobs are allocated through town councils, rather than the territorial government. This provides opportunity for leaders to build a political base, while French authorities argue the allocation of employment can lead to nepotism or corruption.

In French Polynesia, town halls often become a fiefdom, with political leaders across the political spectrum holding office as mayor for long periods. Many leaders have built a political base in a particular municipality: Tahoera’a Huiraatira’s Gaston Flosse served as Mayor of Pirae from 1965 to 2000 and was succeeded as mayor by Edouard Fritch, his former son-in-law and current President of French Polynesia. In May, former President Gaston Tong Sang was re-elected as Mayor of Bora Bora for his sixth consecutive term. Since he was first elected in 1983, Oscar Temaru has repeatedly served as Mayor of Faa’a, a working class district close to the capital Papeete, which hosts Tahiti’s international airport.

This dispute raises the question of the use of the courts for political purposes, even though in French constitutional law, the subjective and objective impartiality of judges and prosecutors is presumed in law. People brought before a court can only seek the recusal of a judicial officer if they have objective evidence of their bias.

Despite these principles, many Tahitian voters perceive the courts as an institution of the popa’a (Europeans from mainland France), and argue that France’s notoriously bureaucratic administrative and legal culture is inappropriate in a Pacific context. The latest dispute is not the first to question the impartiality of French legal authorities in Tahiti, which has been challenged many times by autonomist as well as pro-independence politicians.

First elected as President in 1984, Gaston Flosse loyally defended France through the era of French nuclear testing. Flosse faced many allegations of corruption throughout the decades, but was widely perceived as protected by the French State, with allegations of corruption never ending in convictions (the late French President Jacques Chirac was godfather to Flosse’s children). It was only after the end of testing in 1996, that French legal authorities began winning convictions against Flosse in cases of corruption or abuse of public office.

In recent years, Flosse has repeatedly accused French legal authorities of bias and partiality against him. In 2016, in a rare occurrence, the president of the Court of Appeal in Papeete Régis Vouaux-Massel formally rejected Flosse’s accusations, stating: “It must be understood that magistrates judge cases in total independence and do not receive instruction from anyone. This independence is guaranteed to all French citizens, whoever they are, and there is no exception in Papeete as elsewhere.”

Despite such declarations, Moetai Brotherson still regards the actions of the French Prosecutor as biased: “I wish there was another explanation, but we have to be realistic. This is nothing but political retaliation, because Mr. Temaru has put all the French Presidents before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity for the nuclear testing.”

International support

There are many people in Tahiti who do not support Temaru politically, but in a political culture rife with examples of overt corruption, he is widely seen as someone who has not benefitted personally from public office. Moetai Brotherson said that during his hunger strike, Temaru received public and private support from many people outside his own party.

“During the two weeks of hunger strike, we’ve seen leaders of the church coming to pay a visit and give their support to Mr. Temaru,” Brotherson said. “We’ve seen leaders from the unions and we’ve received messages from most political leaders here, even though they wouldn’t say so publicly. We’ve also received messages of support from Corsica, New Zealand, Australia, from the Maori people and other leaders from the Pacific.”

From New Caledonia, the leading independence party Union Calédonienne issued a call for solidarity with the Maohi leader: “Let us recall the long tradition of the instrumentalisation of the law against autonomist or independence leaders. In October 1959, Pouvana’a a Oopa, who was protesting against the looming nuclear tests, was severely punished in the courts. He was only rehabilitated in 2014 by the Court of Administrative Appeal, because his trial had relied on false evidence. Oscar Temaru is continuing his struggle. We call for solidarity from all democrats against this authoritarian trend from France, and we say that the rule of law must apply in overseas France.”

The dispute comes the very month that the French Senate is – once again – amending the 2010 Morin Law that established the Comité d’indemnisation des victimes des essais nucléaires (CIVEN – Compensation Commission for Nuclear Test Victims). In the first few years of operation, provisions said that there was “negligible risk” of radioactive contamination from French testing. This meant the failure of more than 95 per cent of initial compensation cases lodged by Maohi workers who staffed the Moruroa and Fangataufa test sites. This provision was removed in 2017, but new amendments in December 2018 further restricted access to compensation.

During his scheduled visit to Tahiti last April – postponed during the COVID crisis – President Emmanuel Macron was expected to face public protests over the delays in fixing the legislation. France is still under pressure from the workers’ association Moruroa e Tatou as well as Association 193, a new anti-nuclear group mobilising young people in Tahiti.

As Islands Business goes to press, the case is continuing and may even be relocated to Paris. For Moetai Brotherson, the current legal harassment of Oscar Temaru aims to scare away a younger generation from campaigning on nuclear issues, even as young Tahitians are picking up the torch following the recent deaths of long-time anti-nuclear campaigners John Taroanui Doom, Bruno Barrillot and Roland Oldham.

“By putting so much undue pressure on Oscar Temaru because of his fight against nuclear testing, they are also trying to scare a younger generation by sending a message,” said Brotherson. “If you get involved in this nuclear testing fight, you will lose. I think that’s the very strong political message that the French state is sending with Mr. Temaru’s case.”

 

It is a season of surveys across the Pacific. Governments, international organisations, industry bodies and chambers of commerce are surveying the private sector to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the sample size of most of those already published has been small, the hope is that the results will inform the type of support provided by governments and multilateral agencies in the middle to longer term.

The Pacific Trade and Invest (PTI) Business Monitor is surveying a small number of businesses every two weeks over a six-month period.

In its most recent report (the second in the series) released in early June, PTI says the impact COVID-19 is having on businesses is starting to decline; 88% reported this impact compared to 91% in survey one. The second survey had 143 respondents, all online and all decision makers or owners in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

Almost three-quarters of businesses in Fiji reported a “very negative” impact from COVID-19. Across the board, 90% of businesses reported a decline in revenue of some magnitude.

70% of businesses were confident they will survive COVID-19 but half do not expect revenue to return to pre-COVID levels until next year or later. A quarter of businesses expect to return to business as usual this year.

The three main challenges identified by respondents were not knowing how long the crisis will last, the impact of closed international borders and poor cash flow. A lesser challenge was a lack of knowledge and skilled staff.

40% of the respondents said they needed support to access new markets, either locally or overseas, slightly more than in the first survey.

The PTI survey also asked respondents about their mental health. Nearly a quarter of them said that COVID-19 is having a very negative impact on their mental health, and almost two-thirds said it is having a negative impact.

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A mere decade before the Pacific Island Countries join the rest of the world to account in terms of what we have done collectively to deliver the 2030 promise and the Sustainable Development Goals, a global pandemic has struck the earth with devastating consequences.

The crisis is forcing governments and policymakers to consider the unavoidable trade-offs between saving lives and preserving jobs and livelihoods.  Countries have been grappling with the collision of a triple menace – COVID-19, climate-related disasters, and rising domestic violence – compounding the wide-ranging challenges for sustainable development, national security and foreign policy.  The new challenges further stress an already difficult position for the Pacific Islands Forum.

The outcomes are not the same for everyone and the crisis is forcing governments to consider the painful questions and hard choices between inequality and economic growth, the redistributive and resetting pressures of building and strengthening health systems and preserving jobs and livelihoods that makes small states of the region economically dependent on foreign influence, aid-dependency, and soft power initiatives. 

The uncertainty in transitioning to a durable solution is unique with COVID-19, as there is a dilemma of managing the profound and long-lasting shock in the context of addressing the pre-existing challenges of poverty and inequality. The challenges are wide-ranging, from care work, including unpaid care work; to preparedness and readiness of health and social systems, to repatriation of nationals and travel bubbles; from economic recovery to debt-management, and the list continues.

The Pacific Island Forum’s vision for its peoples is one that is both familiar and ever-evolving, in response to the changing currents of the new world regime. Resetting the Blue Pacific has to be a Pacific story driven by the Pacific leaders’ aspirations for a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and economic prosperity through assertive diplomacy, assessing the diverse voices and paying much more attention to the large swaths of the Pacific Blue Continent. The timely invoking of the Biketawa Declaration and the establishment of the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19, as the avenue for the one Blue Pacific family to manage recovery and build back better is a point of convergence for resetting. Resetting with stronger genuine and durable partnerships as promoted by the Pacific Small Island Developing States (P-SIDS) along with the rest of the world’s SIDS in the SAMOA Pathway for sustainable development and using the 4Cs for effective delivery and lasting impact.   

The novel COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the region’s priorities and sustainable development goals, demanding innovative ways, and enhanced cooperation at all levels. The situation calls for a reset in the regional approach to these issues, in a way that is bold and innovative, while tapping into the deepest strains of our Pasifika psyche and traditions.  In tackling, we must not revert, instead, this is a once-in-a-lifetime to lay the foundations for a new revitalised Pacific way that will benefit generations to come. 

“Lalanga” or weaving, is a tradition that is common in communities and societies of the Pacific, whether from Micronesia to Melanesia and Polynesia.  This fundamental skill of our communities to weave baskets, mats, clothing or fishing nets, entails a patient and careful approach by multiple hands, laying strand upon strand, with overarching view of what the finished creation will be.  Lalanga, however, is more than weaving.  As our ancestors have taught us, the lessons of Lalanga — coordination, cooperation, commitment, and care (4C’s) — can be applied methodically through our life’s challenges.

In resetting the pathways for the Blue Pacific, we should enhance our traditional knowledge of the 4C’s. For a new normal, the regional architecture must be enhanced and sustained to ensure that the 4Cs of the Pacific Lalanga drive regional actions and deepen collective responsibility and accountability to deliver on the promises of sustainable development under the prospective 2050 Blue Pacific Strategy. The strands of 4Cs for the Lalanga must be stronger and more assertive. 

The growing interest of the world in the Pacific requires a rethink and reset of the Forum’s security and foreign policy positions to safeguard the stability and strengthen the resilience and sustainable development of the Blue Continent.  As described by the World Bank, the shocks of COVID-19 are causing the world economies to experience the deepest global recession in decades, despite the extraordinary efforts of governments to counter the downturn with fiscal and monetary policy support.

To eliminate and stop the spread of COVID-19 and its impacts, means not reverting to business as usual.  It is instead an opportunity to get it right, so that no one is left behind and that we could be in the same boat and we all come through this together. It is an opportunity to reinforce the links between climate actions and sustainable development, adaptation responses with goals of environmental conservation, economic development and societal wellbeing of all peoples of the Pacific. 

At this critical juncture, we must ask: Is Pacific regionalism robust and ambitious enough to navigate this new terrain effectively, and are the 4Cs working?

The Pacific Islands Forum is a coalition of the willing to protect the interests of its member states. It is committed to ensuring that the future of the Blue Pacific cannot simply be left to chance but requires a collective commitment to achieve it.  The 4Cs of coordination, cooperation, commitment and care are not new, but need rejuvenation with more assertive diplomacy, development cooperation and investment now to support member countries to manage the long-lasting shock of COVID-19 and build back better toward a post-COVID-19 durable solution. 

The greatest risks of the final decade towards 2030 are present, and every effort must be better coordinated, every opportunity for development cooperation must be seized to prevent further shocks, and manage existing shocks for P-SIDS.  The commitment of Forum Leaders to act now is demonstrated in the 2019 Forum Leaders endorsement of a 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.   It reflects a commitment to urgency for making it happen.  

The 2050 Strategy must be concrete, with binding and realistically achievable targets, and with the financial capacity and investments for implementation.  As we have learned from our ancestors, the 2050 Strategy during such an unprecedented epoch should not ignore our traditional 4Cs. Through our history of cooperation, mechanisms, and responses to coordinate economic and humanitarian aid can seamlessly be integrated. The key elements of the complex challenges of the vulnerable Pacific infrastructures and increasing costs as related to development assistance and foreign policy are also critical to the 2050 Strategy. More assertive diplomacy is needed with attention to multilateral mechanisms and protocols to boost Pacific regionalism for building back better. Let’s not forget our traditional knowledge.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a common threat and must be tackled using the 4Cs of Lalanga of coordination, cooperation commitment, and care for a better Blue Pacific.

Amelia Kinahoi Siamomua is a Pacific islander and an expert on regional and international affairs, serving more than 30 years as an international civil servant in the United Nations system and other international organisations globally, including the Pacific region.  She is the Tongan Prime Minister’s nominee for the position of Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum.

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