ATTENDING a Pacific trade and investment seminar in Fiji last month, the official delegate from the Cook Islands spoke what must have been going through the minds of many a delegate when he said, “As a small island nation, we admired the way Fiji has benefitted from trading with the United States, and we too aspire to enjoy some of those benefits.” You can read more about that engagement between the United States and Pacific Islands trade officials on page 14, in what the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat says was the first US engagement with Forum-member countries on trade-related issues “since the closure of the USAid programme in the early 1990s.” “It should be noted that this initiative is very different from the EPA (with the European Union) and PACER Plus (with Australia and New Zealand) as they are Free Trade Agreements which require reciprocity in terms of market access,” Forum’s Deputy Secretary General Andie Fong Toy and Director Trade and Governance Shiu Raj said in their written response to our questions.
So who will be the next to head the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)? FFA has 17 member countries and is based in Honiara. The current head, Samoa’s Tanielu Su’a’s term is coming to an end (serving his second three-year term) and the Forum Fisheries Committee will make a decision on who takes over from him when they meet in Tonga on May 18. The name selected by the committee will then go before the fisheries ministerial meeting in July in Tonga for their endorsement. But already, there are speculations amongst those in the fisheries industry and partners on who will head FFA. The word is that this time round, it is the Melanesian’s turn to head the Forum Fisheries Agency.
It is understood they are looking at backing a candidate for the top job. The name of Vanuatu’s director of fisheries Moses Amos Tinapua is understood to have been suggested within the MSG circle and he could get the nod from the MSG nations—Fiji, Solomons, Vanuatu and PNG. But it will be a difficult decision, since there is also another Melanesian candidate shortlisted. But from what Letter from Suva has been told James Movick, currently the Number 2 man at the FFA, has been travelling around the Pacific lobbying member countries to support his bid for the top position.
Movick, from the Federated States of Micronesia and a former head of PIPSO (Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation), has the support of countries of the Northern Pacific and definitely a strong contender for the top position. However, documents obtained by Letter from Suva revealed that 14 candidates had applied for the job, four of those “were deemed ineligible for selection as they did not include a Letter of Endorsement from their FFA home member states. “The remaining 10 candidates were carefully reviewed and scored against the provided selection criteria. Generally, the quality of these candidates was high…each presenting a unique mix of qualifications, experience, skills and knowledge,” said a report by Vanguard International, a human resource and management consultancy firm from Papua New Guinea, hired to undertake the task of shortlisting the candidates.
Out of the 10 candidates, five were shortlisted by the consultancy firm—two from Australia, one each from the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
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If there is one best kept secret in the region, it is the appointment of the new chief trade adviser (CTA) to replace Dr Chris Noonan at the Office of the Chief Adviser (OCTA).
Several attempts to get confirmation from the islands’ top officials were unsuccessful. Even OCTA officials in Vanuatu declined to comment. Letter from Suva was told to wait for an official announcement. That official announcement is expected to be made this month.The appointment of the CTA was made in Brussels late last year when Pacific Islands trade ministers (PACP) and officials were there for an informal meeting on EPA with the Europeans. More than 30 people had applied for the job.
Noonan resigned on the eve of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in Auckland last September—
just 18 months on the job. He resigned because of ‘per- sonal reasons’. But according to those close to Noonan, he resigned because the Tongans (as prox- ies for Australia) were really making his life impossible, Letter from Suva was told.
He was appointed to give independent advice to the Pacific countries as they negotiate with their more powerful neighbours for the controversial PACER-Plus free trade agreement. So who is getting the job? Letter from Suva, however, has been told the job has been given to a Ghanaian but an Australian citizen, widely respected in WTO, and has a Pacific connection.
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THE past month saw me in Honiara working with a group of 19 young but very enterprising bunch of journalists. Most of them are just into their first year of journalism, either in radio or newspaper so it should be expected that they would be ‘green’ and boasts very little experience in covering important national as well as regional news events.
After seven days of meeting in Ho- niara at the 20th Melanesian Spearhead Group’s biennial summit, I returned home to Suva wondering as to who ben- efited the most from the experience. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation- implemented and Australian Govern- ment-funded Pacific Media Assistance Scheme had contracted me to offer training and mentoring support for local journalists covering the MSG meetings.
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I hope you will enjoy reading the finer details about one of the region’s largest buyout in recent times, with Bank South Pacific snapping up Westpac Bank’s operations in five island countries.
By first breaking the story then reporting in detail BSP’s A$125 million acquisition of Westpac’s operations in the Cook Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, this development also tested the magazine’s island-wide network of writers and correspondents. Just as we thought we were hitting a brickwall, or being sent around on wild-goose chases by corporate spin-doctors, our Canberra-based correspondent and long time ally of the magazine, Rowan Callick emailed a jackpot - he had landed an exclusive interview with Robin Fleming, the Australian banking executive who heads BSP as its CEO.
In some ways, that interview opened up the so called tap of information. From our Suva newsroom, we received responses to our list of follow up questions about the acquisition from Emma Cunningham, senior communications manager at Westpac Pacific headquarters in Sydney, as well as from Johnson Kalo, who is Fleming’s deputy in PNG. Read the cover story and you will be able to learn some additional but important information on staff redundancy and new working conditions that our network was able to collect.
In this edition, we introduce our most recent addition to our growing network of correspondents; Taberannang Korauaba, one of Kiribati’s finest journalists. He is publisher and editor of a private weekly newspaper in Kiribati, and one of those fine products of the University of the South Pacific’s School of Journalism.
Read his story on one of the world’s largest marine parks, the Phoenix Island Protection Area. Our Auckland based Sports Writer Peter Rees launches his countdown of the 15th Pacific Games on page 28. Papua New Guinea is hosting the game in July with BSP as the main sponsor. Enjoy.