Jul 20, 2019 Last Updated 3:02 AM, Jul 19, 2019

Nauru’s legal wrangle

A huge legal battle looms in Nauru over the trial of 19 people some of whom former opposition parliamentarians with the Baron Waqa Government opting to appeal its Supreme Court ruling that the republic should foot the legal bill of the defendants.

In his landmark judgement on 21 June this year, Supreme Court Judge Geoff Muecke of Australia ordered the Waqa Government to pay AU$224,021 (USD165,880) towards the expenses of the four Australian-based lawyers of the 19 defendants. This money was to be paid to the Supreme Court of Nauru by 5pm on Friday, 29 June.

Nothing was paid by deadline however with the government of Nauru exercising its right to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision. This means that the appeal would have to be heard by the Court of Appeal of Nauru, a court that currently does not exist.

In a surprise move earlier in the year, and following a secret pact with the government of Australia, the Nauru Government had announced that it would no longer uses the Supreme Court of Australia as its Appeals Court. It would establish its own, Nauru added.

A closer reading of Judge Muecke’s ruling reveals that the jurist had anticipated the non-payment of the legal fees. Order number 3 in his ruling reads:

“I order that the Republic of Nauru pay into the Supreme Court of Nauru the sum of $224,021.90, or such other sum as may be agreed between the DPP and the defendants’ Australian legal team, by 5pm Friday 29 June 2018, for and on behalf of the legal fees and disbursements of the defendants’ Australian legal team for the trial in this matter, and for some fees and disbursements already incurred.

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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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