Nauru’s President David Adeang and his delegation walked out of the Pacific Islands Forum plenary meeting Wednesday as questions are raised about the appointment of former President Baron Waqa to take over in 2024 as the next Secretary General.
Diplomatic sources told PACNEWS, Forum Chairman and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown had ask Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka’s intervention to mediate and resolve the situation.
PACNEWS understands negotiation are underway behind the scenes to get Nauru’s President back for the Plenary before the leaders depart for Aitutaki for the Leaders retreat Thursday.
The Forum Leaders under the chairmanship of Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka had agreed to Waqa’s appointment at a special leaders retreat in Suva in February. However, since the nomination of Waqa, Nauru’s leader from 2013 to 2019, serious concerns over his candidacy have been raised.
In 2014, Waqa’s government sacked Nauru’s chief magistrate and suspended the chief justice, disrupting the rule of law in the island nation.
Waqa’s time in office overlaps with Australia’s use of an offshore detention centre in Nauru, used to house hundreds of asylum seekers, including women and children.
Waqa’s government also clamped down on media freedom, banning Facebook, denying journalists entry and detaining a New Zealand journalist after she interviewed a refugee at a previous Forum Leaders summit.
The 63-year-old was nominated by Micronesian nations to be the next secretary general from next year after they signed the Suva Agreement.
Micronesia ‘will continue to support’ Baron Waqa to lead Forum
Meanwhile, Palau’s President, Surangel Whipps Jr confirmed: “We pledged our support in February, and we will continue to support him [Waqa]”.
Whipps Jr confirmed with RNZ Pacific that the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit (MPS) bloc reached consensus on the matter at their sub-regional meeting in Rarotonga on Monday (local time).
“We reaffirmed our commitment, of course, had opportunity to see Baron [Waqa] here and hopefully, move forward with the transition and the beginning of the next chapter of leadership.”
In his first interview with a foreign media since becoming the candidate for the top job, Waqa told RNZ Pacific: “We need to get everyone together. Reunited and refocused again”.
Forum chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown has also confirmed to RNZ Pacific that he will support whatever the Micronesian leaders decide.
“These are the outcomes of the Suva Agreement that were at the last leaders meeting. This has been accepted by leaders,” Brown said.
Meanwhile, Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka has played down suggestion there is a rift among Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum after reports that Nauru President David Adeang stormed out at the plenary Wednesday when Micronesia’s nomination for Secretary General Baron Waqa was on the agenda.
“I didn’t see that as a walk out because the Leaders would go out and be replaced by the members of the delegation, so until I hear from him. I’ve not been informed that he did not want to participate in that session,” said Rabuka.
Rabuka said he is not concerned the issue will disrupt the unity among Pacific Leaders.
“No I’m not concerned because we have not dealt with the issue,” he told journalists in Rarotonga.
Rabuka said as former Chairman, he is bound by the decision made by the Leaders at the Special Retreat in Nadi in February this year.
“I know he is the nomination that we had discussed during the retreat in Denarau and I was chair at the time. As Chair of the Forum, I’m bound by the decision we made in Denarau.
The Suva Agreement is part of a pact to restore Pacific unity after it was shaken when Kiribati withdraw from the Forum last year. It forms the basis for strengthening the Pacific Islands Forum going forward. Under the Agreement, the position is rotated.
The Leaders are expected to finalise their decision on the appointment of Baron Waqa during their retreat in Aitutaki Thursday local time.