Marshall Islands president calls for Forum ‘peace’

President David Kabua

The President of Marshall Islands says not only does he not want the Micronesia area nations to pull out of the Forum, he wants current Secretary General Henry Puna to stay on the job. In a 17 February letter to Nauru President and Micronesian Presidents Summit Chairman Lionel Aingimea obtained by the Marshall Islands Journal, Marshall Islands President David Kabua lodged an impassioned appeal for reconciliation.

Kabua urged the Micronesian Presidents to “agree to accept the reforms proposed by the Forum for sub-regional rotation of the Secretary General position, establishment of a Forum sub-regional office in the North Pacific region, and my own recommendation for the MPS to rescind the condition for Secretary General Henry Puna to vacate and leave his post.”

The President said open, free and fair elections “are the inescapable features of democratic nations.” While the five Micronesia area leaders had expressed disappointment in the process, “in the end, and painful and bitter as the outcome may have been, Secretary General Puna was fairly elected by the Forum and ‘majority rule’ is a central pillar of democratic governance.”

In a hotly contested vote over a year ago, Forum leaders elected Puna over the Micronesia region’s nominee, Marshall Islands Ambassador to the United States Gerald Zackios, by a vote of 9-8.

President Kabua said the Marshallese people and the government “holds neither animosity nor ill-feelings toward Secretary General Puna.”

He offered a Marshall Islands definition of the “Pacific Way,” a concept first coined and defined by one of the Forum’s founders Fiji Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara in the 1970s. “The true essence of the Pacific Way is purposeful unifying action for the common good, building bridges of understanding, nurturing strong bonds of friendship and goodwill, and peaceful co-existence among people and nations,” Kabua said. “In short, the Pacific Way is based on reciprocal considerations of mutual respect, mutual tolerance, mutual gain and mutual benefit.”

In his letter to Nauru President Aingimea, Kabua said he asked himself: “Is it fair for Secretary General Puna to vacate his post under the circumstances? I truly feel it is not, and to remain intransigent could inflict a psychological blow to the soul of the Forum.”   

He said he worries that a departure by Puna could cause attitude changes “within our premier regional organisation in ways that could be counter-productive to our long-term collective interest.”

On a more personal note, Kabua said he wished to avoid “saddling the Marshallese government and people with the undesirable stigma of being sore losers and a source of regional friction and schism.”

He urged the Micronesia heads of state to “tread the high moral path” in support of reforms while staying within the Forum and maintaining Puna in the Secretary General post. This course of action is “fair and in line with the true Pacific Way and provides an amicable, win-win pathway forward,” Kabua said. “As small island developing states, wrestling with many difficult challenges, local, regional and global, our strength is in numbers, and in the unity and diversity of our Pacific Islands Forum family.”