Fiji’s Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka flies to Kiribati on Friday morning to meet with President Taneti Maamau and discuss Kiribati’s membership of the Pacific Islands Forum, amongst other issues.
The visit is Rabuka’s first overseas trip since being sworn in as Prime Minister on Christmas Eve.
As Fiji’s Prime Minister, Rabuka is also Forum Chair. He was accorded a traditional welcome to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) in Suva on Wednesday night.
At the ceremony, which was conducted by the Tongan community in Fiji, PIFS Secretary General, Henry Puna said, “Your leadership comes at a most crucial time. From the podium of the Pacific Island Forum, we will look to you to lead us on the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific, to bridge and heal our family relations, and to transition us into the leadership of the Cook Islands as the incoming Pacific Island Forum Chair.
“Your own achievements and legacy in the region give our regional family a fighting chance of successfully navigating these critical issues.”
Secretary General Puna continued by naming some of the most important issues facing the Forum. “You well understand that we are at a juncture where, amongst other things, climate change threatens our survival, multilateralism is failing, and geopolitical competition in our region seeks to divide us.”
In response, Prime Minister Rabuka stated: “We are a village; we are a family. Whether we can follow the languages and the dialects or not, our spirits communicate. I can only reciprocate the honour by serving the Pacific Islands Forum in the remaining term, and continue as a member after I, as Prime Minister hand over to my successor.
“I am looking forward to contributing to developing the Forum. We pay our respects to the leaders of the past and we owe it to them to forge this unity and work forward from here. I call on all of you and Government leaders in the Pacific to come together and forge forward, move forward in unity.”
Kiribati withdrew from the Forum in July last year after declining to sign the so-called ‘Suva Agreement’, which saw several other PIF members—Marshall Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu, and Federated States of Micronesia- agree to remain with the regional grouping, with conditions.
Rabuka’s decision to visit to Kiribati in his first weeks in government clearly demonstrate that trying to repair the rift is his priority.
Fiji has two months before Cook Islands takes over as Forum Chair. Given the short tenure Rabuka will have in the role, Secretary General Puna said after the formalities in Wednesday, “We can’t and shouldn’t place too many expectations on him. He is starting with the most important priority, and that is Kiribati; and let’s hope he comes back with some excellent news.”