Feb 26, 2017 Last Updated 12:56 AM, Feb 15, 2017

Why I was sacked: Pokajam

Members of the PNA (Parties to the Nauru Agreement) meet in Honiara on March 5-14 to discuss a number of important issues pertaining to their success. For instance what to do with the US$93 million—and that is how to distribute this pot of money resulting from last year’s successful conclusion of negotiations with the United States government and its tuna industry. But missing from this very important and crucial meeting will be PNG’s Sylvester Pokajam, former PNG National Fisheries Authority (NFA) managing director. Pokajam was ungraciously dumped from his job after he was sacked by the PNG cabinet. Letter from Suva was told that Pokajam’s sacking was to create a position for one of the leadership’s cronies. It is also being said that his relentless drive upset others in Papua New Guinea, and he was accused of having too much power and not following ministerial directives. He has been replaced by his former deputy, John Kasu. “I was told verbally on January 29 and officially on February 7, 2014. I was in Manila so I did not get a copy of the letter. The Prime Minister and his Fisheries Minister simply stated I have been with NFA for too long. “I feel that staying longer and being productive means stakeholders are more confident and it provides a stable environment for them and investors.

‘My sacking politically motivated’: “There is no law or policy in PNG stating that chief executives need to be replaced because they have simply been there for too long. Therefore, I believe my sacking was politically motivated.” The news sent shockwaves throughout the fisheries sector because the Pacific and PNG has lost a strong voice in terms of sustainable tuna management and the development of fisheries for local employment and better economic gains. Not many of the Pacific’s leaders have the guts to stand up to Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs) like the United States and the European Union at international meetings and negotiations. You can say Pokajam, an accountant by profession, has been there and done that. It was only in December last year he told the European Union (EU) at the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting in Cairns that if they did not want to recognise PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme, they should pack up and leave the Pacific.

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Two regional conferences are taking place in Melanesia this month. And although they attract different participants, they both share a common denominator; it’s about the people of the Pacific determined to take control of their own destiny. Initial plans were for both the Special Summit of Leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and the biennial Congress of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) to be held at the same week but at different countries; Vanuatu capital, Port Vila, for the MSG Special Summit and in Noumea, the capital of the French territory of New Caledonia, for the PINA Summit.

In fact, the PINA executives had invited the Director-General of the MSG Secretariat, Peter Forau to be the keynote speaker at their Noumea Congress. But Forau declined saying he was busy organising the special summit. The MSG Special Summit will be Forau’s most important. Because at stake is the credibility of this 25-year old alliance. Leaders of the pro-independence movement, the FLNKS in New Caledonia, and heads of government in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu will have to show that they are in full control of their organisation and its destiny.

Letter from Suva understands the instruction issued by the chairman is that only leaders of the full member countries will attend this meeting. While the MSG relies on friendly and wealthier countries like China to fund their existence, Melanesian leaders need to show that they, not the wealthier nations, dictate the operations at the MSG. Already there have been accusations levelled at the MSG that Indonesia (an observer member of MSG) is doing exactly what Australia has been doing to the Pacific Islands Forum—and that is dictating the operations of MSG. A very senior MSG official once told Letter from Suva, that if the MSG is not careful, it will see Indonesia dictating its agenda—because it has the money and the clout to do so.

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Pacific should celebrate

March 8—is International Women’s Day (IWD)—and it is celebrated throughout the world. For the Pacific, there is a lot more going for it this year and the March IWD should be a very good reason to celebrate our achievements. First, we’ve scored a position on the UN Women Executive Board. Representing the Solomon Islands on the board is Helen Beck, Counsellor at the Solomon Islands Embassy in New York. Her two-year appointment beginning January this year, is not only an achievement for the Solomon Islands but for the region as whole. She is the only Pacific islander on the executive board. The UN Women Executive Board is made up of representatives from 41 countries around the world, who serve on a rotating basis. The board members are selected on the following basis: 10 from Africa; 10 from Asia/Pacific; 4 from Eastern Europe; 6 from Latin America and the Caribbean; 5 from Western Europe; and 6 from contributing countries. The UN Women was established in 2010 as part of the UN reform—bringing together mandates and resources of four gender distinct part of the UN, namely: Division of the Advancement of Women, International Research and Training for the Advancement of Women Institute, Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women and UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). As Beck’s head in the Solomons, foreign secretary Joy Kere said when announcing her appointment, her ministry will work closely with the women’s ministry and the regional gender system to get the Pacific gender aspiration and challenges voiced in the executive board via its New York office.

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So the PACP (Pacific group of the African, Caribbean, Pacific group of states) leaders have spoken. They have made their point loud and clear: They’ve had enough of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). They want Fiji back into the PACP fold. Plus, they want to handle all EPA (a form of trade partnership, required by the Cotonou Agreement, which covers economic relations between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States) business—definitely a decision that would have jolted PIFS secretary-general and his top guns who were at Port Moresby last month. PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill had hosted a special meeting of PACP leaders to discuss Fiji’s participation in PACP-related activities.

That Port Moresby meeting emanated from a PACP leaders decision in the Cook Islands in August where it was agreed that a special non-Forum meeting of PACP leaders be convened to consider PACP matters, including Fiji’s participation. Fiji had been excluded from participating in PACP since 2009 after it was suspended from the Forum. But under a special arrangement with SPC, the regional organisation facilitates Fiji’s participation at officials and ministerial levels in PACP meetings to prepare for and advance EPA negotiations with the EU and in the regional European Development Fund projects.

So what really happened at the Port Moresby meeting? Letter from Suva was reliably told of what appeared to be a deliberate attempt by PIFS to muscle Fiji out of the discussions. Fijian officials, according to the source, were informed that Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama was to be present only during the opening of the meeting, leave and then return again to present Fiji’s case. But Fijian officials reminded meeting officials that they had come all the way to PNG to attend the meeting and will not be sidelined. Fiji went ahead and attended the meeting, deciding instead to take its cue from how the opening ceremony went.

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Now it's coming out

It is now a month since the Leaders Summit in Rarotonga and things that were hushed up during the meeting are now beginning to come out. One of those things Letter from Suva has been told is the alleged dismay by Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s about not being able to spend more time or have a cuppa coffee with his colleagues to talk about issues of relevance to them and the islands because bilateral meetings were taking up most of leaders time.

Such comments by the biggest member of the Pacific Islands Forum cannot be taken lightly. In fact, it does not augur well for the organisers of the summit, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). And for the critics, it is another reason to again raise questions about PIFS and the Forum and their relevance to the islands. As one critic who spoke with Letter from Suva said: “I think the Forum is in real danger of losing its relevance to the people of the Pacific… it is losing its place as the forum where islands leaders can get together and discuss and share with each other ideas on how they can tackle economic and social problems.”

Just take a look at how regional politics has panned out. There are now sub-regional groupings like the Melanesia Spearhead Group that have cropped up as a result of the islands countries being unhappy with the Forum Secretariat. As the critic puts it: “The emergence of subregional groupings is a testament to that, but one needs to ask why when two Samoans heading PIFS and FFA (Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency), the Pacific has seen the emergence of more splinter groups? “Is this a sign that they lack confidence in their leadership or is it a reflection of the changes taking place in the region?”

The critic added that technocrats have taken over the Forum where all the outcomes are predetermined, and Forum Leaders only rubber stamp decisions. This no doubt raises questions about the ability of our leaders and whether they can make up their own minds.

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