In the September/October 2019 issue of this magazine, I reflected on the ‘Death of Pacific Regionalism?’ (also known as Pacific Islands Forum). It was a leading question in my mind at the time having just witnessed signs of fracture. I concluded as follows: “There is disunity within the collective. The collective’s power is stymied. The collective has been manifesting malaise that points to, inter alia, inherent structural and compositional flaws. In the meantime, intense geopolitics in the region require self-re-examination of the Forum with fresh vigour, purpose and destiny. The proposed 2050 strategic plan needs to look seriously at refitting Pacific regionalism anew for the new challenges tomorrow.”
The fracture became a break when disunity reigned in February. The five Micronesian members withdrew their PIF membership following the divisive events of the virtual election of new Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) Secretary General (SG) Henry Puna.
The divisive mood prevailing at the time was not aided by Fiji’s deportation of Vice Chancellor and President (VCP) Professor Pal Ahluwalia of the regional University of the South Pacific (USP) about the same time as the elections. Fiji, in the eyes of many PIF/USP members, had been undermining the University’s governance structure, specifically the work of the USP Council. These members see such intervention by Fiji as unwelcome and as an unduly exercise of its influence – it being a large contributor to the University budget, the largest beneficiary and as its host.
The Micronesians’ withdrawal resulted essentially from their dissatisfaction with the loss of their candidate for the SG position when it was their turn for PIFS leadership role under a long-standing ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. In the eyes of the Micronesians, the unwritten rule of behaviour for the group was not honoured. National politics, subregional and geopolitical sensibilities should have gone in the way of regional solidarity, in their view.
The Micronesians’ withdrawal of their membership put an end to Pacific regionalism or PIF, as we have known it since 2000. Regional Leaders then had agreed to switch name of the group from the South Pacific Forum (SPF) to PIF to reflect its wider country membership at the time.
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The Pacific Way was coined by the late Fijian and Pacific Islands stateman, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, in which people of different races, opinions and cultures can live and work together for the good of all, can differ without rancour, govern without malice and accept responsibility as reasonable people intent on serving the interests of all.
The Pacific Way of doing things is not taught but is a culture in the Pacific Islands, people are always ready to help each other.
Today and in years to come, Pacific Islanders will need to work together to address the impact of COVID-19 as well as adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.
The pandemic has stressed national budgets of many island countries, an experience faced by governments the world all over. Governments’ capital expenditure on infrastructure that is climate resilient would be limited.
It is estimated that the Pacific will need to spend US$3.1billion a year on infrastructure until 2030, which is more than the annual budgets of most of these island nations. COVID-19, climate change and the threat of natural disasters can easily increase the capital expenses of governments beyond their reach.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is leading World Bank Group efforts to work with pension, provident and sovereign funds in the Pacific region to help spur investments in essential infrastructure such as telecommunications, water, financial services, transport, sustainable energy and health. IFC works in the Pacific with support from the governments of Australia and New Zealand to stimulate private sector investment and reduce poverty in the region. The funds who are members of the Pacific Islands Investment Forum (PIIF) collectively manage over US$45 billion worth of assets.
It makes sense for pension funds to co-invest in infrastructure for a number of reasons. Pension funds play such a dominant role in the financial systems of Pacific Islands, as most have assets worth more than the overall financial system in their countries. Most funds will inevitably play a broader role beyond financial returns for their members. This was quite evident during this pandemic and a survey undertaken by PIIF and IFC will provide some data on the impact of COVID-19 on funds in the region.
Co-investment brings two major benefits to funds and their members. First, investing in infrastructure will improve services and secondly, members will get better returns.
Pension funds joining forces to co-invest and invest across borders is becoming a global trend. Large funds like the Canadian funds have invested in infrastructure alongside the pension funds in Mexico or alongside the funds in India. In Kenya for example, a group of the local pension funds have come together to form a co-investment entity. IFC and the World Bank Group is bringing some of these global experiences to the Pacific.
A few funds are by regulation or legislation restricted from investing outside of their country. This primarily arose during the early stages of the funds’ existence, when they were accumulating capital, and it was important to retain that capital in the domestic economy. But now, as the funds have grown in size, limiting capital from moving outside of the country creates more risk, because they are concentrating on fewer and lesser investment opportunities.
The opportunity exists for PIIF to tap into new investment opportunities, but members must take the necessary steps to clear their own regulatory bottlenecks and figure out the best structure for the funds to channel their investments – and this is where IFC’s technical expertise can assist.
IFC is also in a position to co-invest with members of the PIIF and there are other potential co-investment partners such as the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP).
The AIIFP is an initiative by the Australian Government to provide funding of up to AUD$2bn for high priority infrastructure in the Pacific through grants and loans.
When the time is right and a co-investment entity can be set up, the governance of these investments would also be paramount. We must ensure the interest of the members of the funds remains front and centre, the investments are set at the right level of risk, and suitable to the needs of pension fund members. Transparency too is vital so members can see how decisions are made and on what basis. It should be a case of – together forward, the Pacific way.
*PIIF Members are: Cook Islands Superannuation Fund, Fiji National Provident Fund, Kiribati National Fund, Nauru Sovereign Wealth Fund, NZ SuperFund, Ngati Awa Growth Holdings, Nambawan Super (PNG), NASFUND (PNG), Samoa National Provident Fund, Solomon Islands National Provident Fund, Tokelau Trust Fund, Tonga Retirement Fund, Tonga Retirement Fund Board, Tuvalu National Provident Fund, Tuvalu Trust Fund, Unit Trust of Fiji, Unit Trust of Samoa, Vanuatu National Provident Fund
Thomas Jacobs is IFC’s Country Manager for Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands
When news emerged of 20-year-old Jenelyn Kennedy’s death in Port Moresby in late June, Papua New Guineans and people across the region were horrified. Jenelyn’s youth, the horrific circumstances in which she died—allegedly after six days of beatings and torture, and the fact it came just weeks after another high-profile domestic assault of a PNG sports star, all fuelled extraordinary coverage of her death. The National newspaper published a harrowing image of Jenelyn’s body, with reporter Rebecca Kuku explaining that it was important to show readers what she (Jenelyn) had been through. “Her story needed to be told, as a reporter, a woman, a mother, a sister, I failed to be her voice when she was alive and I’d be damned if I would fail her now in her death,” Kuku wrote.
Horrified Papua New Guineans walked from Parliament to Sir John Guise stadium in a “Walk for Jenelyn” followed by a “shine the light” vigil. Solidarity marches took place in other provincial centres. Her partner Bhosip Kaiwi has been charged with wilful murder and is now in custody. Questions have been raised about the responsibilities of doctors and police officers and others living in the house Jenelyn and Kaiwi shared, who were aware of her treatment.
Sadly her story is all too common.
Fresh from a 10-day tour of Viti Levu - Fiji’s main island - our July cover story shares what we saw as Fijians adjust to the economic and social shocks brought about by the COVID19 pandemic. Employees of now-closed hotels and resorts who live in villages are falling back to subsistence farming and fishing. For the many more families who live outside these communities and who pay rent or mortgage in Sigatoka, Nadi and Lautoka, the adjustments are much harder. Relief offered by the Fijian Government like withdrawing their pensions while helpful, are temporary, and many are resorting to other means to earn income. They include 2014 Miss World Fiji, Charlene Tafuna’i who lost her job as an aircraft engineer at Nadi International Airport and is a regular at the VOTCITY Flea Market in Nadi. Thousands more do not qualify for pension withdrawals nor have the means to venture into business and this is where the work done by non-governmental organisations like the Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises N Development and the Then India Sanmarga Ikya Sangam in providing food packs and free school lunches respectively is life saving.
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For the past several months if you are working in business, in government, for regional organisations or studying, you have almost certainly expanded your use of a raft of collaboration and meeting tools. You may have formed an opinion on Zoom vs Hangouts, logged into dozens of webinars, learnt the etiquette of virtual meetings, and digitalised processes that were once analog. In the Pacific region, you’ve probably also spent time grappling with meetings where the speakers can be likened to poorly-dubbed film actors, or the sound disintegrates into static.
A range of new submarine cables and improved satellite choices promise to improve this situation within months in several Pacific Island countries.
At the start of the pandemic, sector experts were concerned that the production of mobile devices and supply chain changes might slow the progress towards 5G in some markets, and that there might be issues keeping submarine cable in service, deployed or upgraded.
However the companies responsible for cable being laid and tested in our region claim the impact has been negligible.
A number of cables criss-cross the Pacific seabed. Amongst the new ones coming online is the Manatua-One Polynesia cable, which includes landings in French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Niue and Samoa. Targeted to go live last month, it is in the final stages of testing. The Coral Sea Cable System connects Port Moresby and Honiara with Sydney and the rest of the world. The Hawaiki Submarine Cable is owned by a company of the same name, and connects users in Australia, New Zealand, American Samoa, Hawaii, and the United States, with New Caledonia to be connected by the end of this year if it remains on schedule. The Southern Cross Next cable is due for commissioning in early 2022 , and will link Sydney, Auckland and Los Angeles, with critical international cable connectivity to Fiji, Tokelau and Kiribati. Palau is also looking towards installation of a second internet submarine cable, and last month Allcatel Submarine Networks was awarded a $40.7 million contract to build and deploy a second submarine cable, Gondwana 2 between Fiji and New Caledonia due for completion in early 2022. (For a more complete description of upcoming and existing cable networks, visit www.islandsbusiness.com)
There are also high hopes for improved service via satellite technology, such as the kind provided by Kacific, a satellite operator providing a high-speed broadband internet service in the South East Asia and Pacific Islands regions. Late last month Tuvalu’s government signed a five-year bandwidth capacity agreement with Kacific and Federated States of Micronesia has issued an individual operating license for Kacific to provide telecom services in the nation.
Related: Digitising remittance transfers in Fiji
Remote areas of the Pacific, including New Zealand, are about to get cheap and easy access to the internet. Richard Broadbridge, from communications company MMG, explains the Kacific-1 satellite system will provide what the long-standing, C-band satellite system can’t – low-cost and high speed.
The Kacific satellite is the most powerful broadband satellite serving the region to date, says Richard Broadbridge, Business Development Manager for the Singapore-based company Melanesian Media Group (MMG).
Its technology provides greater efficiency and therefore a lower cost per mbps.
Founded in 2013 by Christian Patouraux, Kacific uses the Ka-band High Throughput Satellite, designed and built by Boeing and launched into a geostationary orbit by Elon Musks’ Space-X Falcon-9 launch vehicle last December.
This is disruptive technology, says Broadbridge, adding “it will transform communications throughout the Pacific, Indonesia and the Philippines”.
Red, Green, Yellow and Black are the four colours that distinguish the Flag of the Republic of Vanuatu from other national colours.
Red symbolises blood that binds the human race.
Green represents the fertile greenery of the islands.
Yellow stands for Christianity - the light that was shone by the pioneer missionaries who braved the once dark islands to bind the people for Christ.
Black confirms the black volcanic soil that nourishes the land to provide organic food for the inhabitants.
Vanuatu this month celebrates its 40th Independence Anniversary from Britain and France, the colonial rulers that jointly administered the 83 islands for 74 years from 1906 until midnight of July 29th, 1980.
On that historical night, as a young reporter with an ancient camera taking black and white pictures, I could not understand why some civil servants were wiping tears from their eyes as the British flag was lowered for the last time at midnight to a melancholy tune from a lone bugle blown by a police man in British police uniform.
The Parliament of PNG has passed a series of amendments targeting the mining, oil and gas industries, which give the Minister greater flexibility in determining whether to grant or refuse petroleum development licences, according to a briefing note by law firm, Allens.
One of the key elements for the mining industry is that the Mining Minister may impose a 'minimum expected level of return' for the State on a licensee, say Allens authors Rob Merriam, Jacqui Rowell and Sarah Kuma, writing in Insights.
“What the level of return might be, how it would be calculated and how it would be enforced are not prescribed in the O&G Amendments,” they say.
Existing applicants may also be subject to these amendments if the Minister has not yet granted their licence, they add.
The legislation follows the Marape government’s refusal to grant an extension of the Porgera mining licence which expired last August, although JV company Barrick New Guinea Ltd (BNL) had sought a 20-year extension as far back as June 2017.
Barrick’s CEO, Mark Bristow, reaction was that it was “tantamount to nationalisation without due process” and legal action in the PNG Courts is continuing.
This month (July), Barrick has begun layoff staff. According to Barrick, most of the 116 expatriate employees have already been retrenched, while 2650 PNG nationals will have their employment terminated prior to the end of July at a projected cost to the company of K180 million (US$52 million).
“This is already having a big impact on the economy,” Shane McLeod, analyst at the Lowy Institute, told Islands Business.