Oct 20, 2017 Last Updated 8:27 AM, Oct 20, 2017

Guam at the crossroads for self determination

ONE of the last colonies in the 21st century, Guam is an unincorporated US territory in search of a political identity. Its long quest for self-determination continues to hang in limbo — confronted by unresolved legal questions and paralysed by political divisiveness. Throughout the decades, the fervor of political status discussions comes intermittently— now it’s hot, now it’s not. In his recent State of the Island address, Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo brought the issue back to the fore.

“It’s time we confronted the fact that, for nearly 400 years, the state of the island has been colonial. It is the unchanged and unrepentant shadow cast upon our unshackled destiny,” the governor said. Vowing to take the lead in moving forward with the unfinished business, the governor proposed that a political status plebiscite be held in the November general elections. The next day after delivering his address, Calvo proceeded to the Guam Election Commission to file a draft measure of the plebiscite.

“If we are committed to our self-determination, then there’s no reason to wait for another election to pass,” he said. Since the 1970s, Guam lawmakers and policy-makers have been attempting to schedule a political status vote. Voters are to choose among three options: independence, statehood and free association. The last plebiscite schedule was proposed in 2004. Again, nothing came of it. 

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THE long-running corruption saga engulfing the Papua New Guinea’s leadership came to a head in April when the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate (NFACD) locked horns with high-profile government figures, including the Attorney General and Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. Headed up by Chief Superintendent Matthew Damaru, the NFACD is the chief anti-corruption agency in Papua New Guinea, operating as a police agency within the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary. During April, the NFACD exploded onto the political scene by arresting Attorney General Ano Pala, Supreme Court judge Bernard Sakora, and the prime minister’s lawyer, Tiffany Twivey, for corruption, fraud, and perverting the course of justice investigations.

Justice Sakora, Attorney General Pala and senior lawyer for O’Neill, Twivy, have all been involved in court cases which in some way supported O’Neill’s efforts to keep the arrest warrant at bay. Justice Sakora was arrested and charged with corruption on suspicion of accepting payment from a company linked to law firm Paul Paraka Lawyers, to which O’Neill allegedly authorised illegitimate payments of about AU$30 million (US$22.81m). Justice Sakora had also earlier this year issued the latest in a series of injunctions and court orders preventing police from arresting O’Neill under a 2014 warrant. On April 16, Police Commissioner, Gari Baki, suspended Damaru and his deputy Timothy Gitua for insubordination but on April 18 a court ordered a stay on all current and further suspensions of NFACD staff. 

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CHINA’S land reclamation in the South China Sea may be tapering off for now but the implications of its actions will run as deep as its ability to project power further into the Western Pacific. Yes, China has insisted that it built its artificial islands solely for defensive purposes (and it has not mentioned the wealth of fish stocks and the rich reserves of undiscovered oil and gas that the South China Sea holds) but this has done little to allay anxieties in countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines, especially when they take into account what else China has been constructing on these relatively fresh patches of land. For example, China began reclamation work on Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratlys off the Philippines coast in 2014.

Today, the resulting island supports a 3km runway that will handle Chinese longrange bombers just as easily as the more benign surveillance or cargo planes. China has erected radar stations and deployed surface to air missiles and it is also building deep-water port facilities with the potential to support submarines as well as its aircraft carrier task force. In response, countries in the region have strengthened their military relationships with one another and with the larger powers of the United States, France and Britain. There will be joint patrols between some of these nations in the South China Sea and a long-abandoned military base in Subic Bay, Philippines, has reopened. All this to go with the other developments brought about by the United States’ four-year-old pivot to the Pacific or rebalance to Asia.

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Pohiva runs foul of free press

TONGA’S veteran democracy campaigner now Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva has run foul of a key cornerstone of democracy which is freedom of the press over the suspension of the editor of the kingdom’s state radio and television. Pohiva last month denied ordering the suspension with full pay of Viola Ulakai, manager programmes and news of Radio and Television Tonga, although correspondence he released on the matter showed that he recommended the immediate suspension of Ulakai to his Minister for Public Enterprises, Poasi Tei whose portfolio includes oversight of the public broadcaster.

In his strongly worded letter to his minister, Pohiva denounced the list of questions sent by Ulakai over the involvement of the prime minister’s son in changes to the exam and grading systems in Tonga’s Ministry of Education. Pohiva is also the education minister. “I wish to raise my concerns as Minister of Education and Training regarding the actions of Mrs Viola Ulakai of Tonga Broadcasting Commission that in my view are intended to demean and bring disrepute to the Ministry of Education and Training and myself as Minister,” Pohiva wrote in his letter to Minister Tei.

He went onto to label as shameful and appalling the line of questions the senior news editor used in questions she sent to education officials in Tonga as well as at the Examination Quality and Assessment Programme of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

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THE new government of Kiribati last month announced sweeping changes in the country’s education, health and social welfare policies that will see free education up to year 12 in the whole of the country. The major policy change will also see the possible introduction of a poverty alleviation cash scheme for toddlers and those with special needs to match the current welfare scheme for the elderly.

Establishing a parliamentary investigative committee to probe alleged corruption and abuse of office, a AU$1 million grant to the country’s two major Christian churches and a AU$2 increase in the price of copra (roasted coconut flesh) were also key features of the national policy statement that President Taneti Maamau unveiled in the island’s parliamentary session late last month.

“Our motto is to serve and to deliver and though there are many challenges that we will need to overcome, we will endeavour to do all that we can and we will do so underpinned with the values of good governance, transparency and accountability,” said President Maamau. “I share with you all today this government’s Motinnano (national policy) with the confidence that we will all join efforts to achieve what is best for our people.” Free education to year 12 should open up senior secondary education to a “significant portion of our population,” the President said.

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