Jul 20, 2017 Last Updated 2:11 PM, Jun 12, 2017

Slow growth expected

NAURU’S economic growth is expected to slow down this year with the country heavily reliant on revenue derived from finite and uncertain sources. The country is largely dependent on revenue from the Australian Regional Processing Centre (RPC) for asylum seekers. The centre generates an estimated A$18 million (US$13m)in annual visa fees, while the value of Australia’s in-kind contributions toward the RPC operations are reportedly larger.

It’s widely speculated that the economic benefits from the processing centre peaked in 2015. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) predicts, however, that for 2016 in addition to revenue from the processing centre, the Nauruan economy will be buoyed somewhat by larger increases in public spending, and higher consumer spending as households benefit from government debt repayments and the liquidation of the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust.

This will be supplemented by continued progress in budget implementation, coupled with an expected recovery in phosphate exports. Nauru’s 2016 budget targets continued fiscal expansion with a supplemental budget passed last October increasing revenue to US$86 million with a matching increase in planned expenditures. The reliance, however, on revenue from foreign fishing licenses, may well be the pivotal point for economic growth as, with many Pacific economies, income from such licences can....

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THERE appears to be some discord within the Pacific Forum over the mounting international and regional concerns about what some Pacific Forum member countries view as a breakdown in democracy in Nauru.

Apart from alleged government interference in the country’s judiciary, the recent arrests of two suspended Opposition Parliamentarians and restrictions on citizens’ access to social media sites have led to heightened concerns about a breach of democratic principles. The two Opposition MPs were arrested in June following a protest - which the Nauruan Government described as a violent riot - outside Parliament. A third Opposition MP has had his passport cancelled preventing him from leaving the country to visit his family in New Zealand. In recent times, Nauru has also sacked and deported its Chief Magistrate who had issued injunctions restraining the President Baron Waqa-led government from deporting two residents.

A Chief Justice who was returning from vacation was also refused re-entry into the country. Concerns over the alleged breakdown of democracy in the once phosphaterich country were raised on the fringes of the Pacific Forum Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Sydney in early July. Both, Australia and New Zealand took the opportunity to voice their concerns in bilateral meetings with the Nauruan delegate.

According to the Secretary General of the Pacific Forum Secretariat, Dame Meg Taylor, the current situation in Nauru does not warrant regional action under the Biketawa Declaration.

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Crackdown against critics continues

Police intervention was required twice in Nauru’s parliament as government and opposition MPs clashed over the suspension of three Opposition members last month. The standoff that has been brewing for sometime flared when the island’s legislature passed a government motion for the suspension of three Opposition MPs, namely Dr Kieren Keke, Member for Yaren; Roland Kun, Member for Buada and Mathew Batsiua, Member for Boe. Government used its majority to get the motion passed. On this particular day, May 5, Dr Keke was the only affected MP that was in parliament. His two other colleagues were overseas.

Drama ensued when Dr Keke refused to vacate his seat after the motion was passed, and when the Speaker ordered police officers to escort him out of the chambers, other opposition members of the House surrounded Dr Keke and told officers to leave their colleague alone. The Speaker was therefore forced to adjourn the session. The following day, Dr Keke turned up to parliament house with a crowd of supporters. Although police numbers have been beefed up in parliament, the Speaker took no chances and again cancelled sittings.

Justice and Finance Minister David Adeang had proposed the motion to suspend the three MPs after accusing them of making statements to the foreign media that were damaging to Nauru’s development. Adeang claimed the people of Nauru were becoming increasingly worried at the behaviour of the three MPs. “There is a place to argue your point and that is here in the parliament. These MPs have done what no other country would deem acceptable – use the foreign media to trash our international reputation,” Minister Adeang said.

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Uncertainties force banking downgrade

Uncertainties in initial assessments on Nauru Island were behind the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s decision not to establish full commercial operations or a community bank as planned. The bank had proposed to open a community bank on the island last year and sent a team to carry out due diligence and assess the situation on the ground. Bank senior media and communications manager Lauren Andrews told Islands Business from their Adelaide headquarters that they had carried out their assessment into establishing a community bank on the island this year.

“Uncertainties have surfaced during the course of this work and at this point in time the Bank has decided not to proceed with establishing a Community Bank branch,” she said. “We remain committed to working with the community and helping them re-establish banking services in Nauru.” The bank will instead opt for a reduced agency service for the population of 10,000 where they can deposit, withdraw and maintain their accounts. Andrews said an agency could return banking services to the community, and in a shorter time frame than it takes to open a branch.

“This could be a viable solution for Nauru, as it’s an alternative service we successfully offer in about 100 Australian communities which haven’t yet established a Community Bank branch.” However she also said it was still too early for the bank to comment on what banking services an agency in Nauru might offer.

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Judicial shake-up in Nauru

Opposition MPs decry deportations

Nauru’s Opposition has described the treatment of two of its highest judicial officers in the land as contempt for the rule of law. Opposition leader Mathew Batsiua alleged that the actions of Justice Minister David Adeang in refusing to abide by a court injunction against the deportation of Resident Magistrate Peter Law were an affront to the powers of the court.

“The actions of this Government are a clear defiance and blatant disregard for the Supreme Court and it is a clear case of contempt of court,” said Batsiua. “It involves the blatant disregard for Chief Justice Eames’ orders stopping Magistrate Law’s deportation from Nauru.” His comments come in the wake of the resignation of Nauru’s Chief Justice, Geoffrey Eames. He stepped down after being denied a visa to return to work in Nauru. Justice Eames said the Nauruan Government had refused to publicly acknowledge that the removal of Mr Law from the island “constituted an abuse of the rule of law and a denial of the independence of the judiciary.”

“Given the government’s failure to concede that its actions against the Resident Magistrate and myself constituted breaches of the rule of law, it is clear that my relationship with the Government is such that I could not perform the duties of Chief Justice, even if my visa was restored.” The court drama began when Magistrate Law had granted an injunction to stop authorities from deporting two expatriates from Nauru.

This order triggered his own deportation from the island republic in January. The Nauru Government however said they had lost confidence in Magistrate Law’s ability to hear matters in a “fair and equal manner.” They also went on to criticise him for his personal conduct as justification for their action. But Opposition Leader Batsiua said the resignations had plunged the Pacific island into a judicial abyss, which seriously restricts anyone seeking a fair hearing in the courts.

Former senior minister and long-serving member of parliament, Roland Kun, said Nauru’s status of having one of the most effective and prestigious judicial benches in the Pacific has been eroded in a matter of months by a government that has become a law unto itself, with no respect whatsoever for the rule or law – especially in decisions not favorable to the government. “We place the blame for this unforgivable situation squarely at the feet of the present Minister for Justice, David Adeang, who has ridden roughshod over legal conventions and even the Constitution, to create a dictatorship for himself, where even the president is at his beck and call.”

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