Kiribati to return to Pacific Islands Forum

Fiji’s Sitiveni Rabuka and Kiribati President Taneti Maamau shake hands after the meeting in January.

Kiribati will return to the Pacific Islands Forum.

Forum Chair, Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka says his office has now received a letter confirming this intention from Kiribati President, Taneti Maamau. Rabuka visited Kiribati just over a week ago, as his first official overseas visit since taking office. At that time he said bringing Kiribati back to the Forum was the visit’s overall objective.

“As we expected he wrote everything he said, that they were willing to rejoin the Pacific Islands Forum, and as I said to him also, as soon as we received an indication from him, I would ask our own Foreign Affairs and the Pacific Islands Forum to have the Secretariat communicate with his own office,” Prime Minister Rabuka told Islands Business this morning.

Rabuka says most of the technical work to restore Kiribati’s membership will be done by the Ministry and the Forum.

Forum leaders are expected to meet in Fiji in March, when Cook Islands Prime Minister, Mark Brown will take over as PIF Chair. Cook Islands will host the next full PIF meeting later this year.

The PIF’s other Micronesian members, Palau, Nauru, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia have already rejoined the Forum following negotiation of the Suva Agreement, which will bring major changes to the appointment of the Forum’s leadership, particularly the Secretary General, and relocate offices to the northern Pacific. That Agreement is yet to be inked by all parties and the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit will likely meet before the March meeting in Fiji.

“Hopefully we’ll get the Micronesian bloc talking among themselves about the other things that they had asked for, asked the Forum Chair to consider. that will have to be taken back to them,” Rabuka said this morning.

He traces some of the present difficulties within the Forum back to historical divisions, particularly after the 2006 coup in Fiji.

“Unfortunately 2006 recreated some sense of discomfort and unease in the relationship amongst leaders and I think it also led to the establishment of the PIDF, particularly when the difficulty of relationship, the absence of the Pacific-type relationship between Fiji and Australia and New Zealand. So Fiji was more sympathetic to another type of organisation that didn’t rely too much on Australia and New Zealand. Since that was started there has been a sense of ‘ok, now we have got rid of the two big boys. Is Fiji now going to be a big boy of the rest?’ And that could have led, I do not know yet, but from observation, it could have led to the uneasy feelings of the smaller island states and probably gave rise to the discomfort felt by the Micronesian states and all they needed was a trigger.”

The Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), which is headquartered in Suva, was established in 2012 and works on renewable energies, and climate responses, amongst other priorities.

When asked if he saw a future for the PIDF, Rabuka said that will depend on the will of the Pacific Island states.

“If PIDF is comfortable that the needs are adequately met under the Pacific Islands Forum than they should be comfortable with that, rather than dissipating our assets and resources by having too many parallel organisations going at the same time. We can spread out, have one regional organisation but regional offices, all working under one umbrella, I believe that would be better, we can’t really afford having too many organisations, we need one organisation to consolidate our views.”

For more coverage, get your January copy of Islands Business, out this week.