Issue No. 07/2021 – Monday, 1 February 2021 (Kitiona Tausi)
Pacific leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum are expected to gather virtually in a special retreat on zoom tomorrow, Wednesday, 03 February 2021.
Other than their government leaders, it will include the Secretary General of PIF and an assistant minute recorder appointed by the Chairman of the Forum, according to Hon Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu and Chairman of the Forum.
In an interview with journalists of the Tuvalu Media Corporation, Hon Natano explained that there are only two important issues to be discussed in this retreat:
- The current status of the COVID-19 and the assistance to be provided by Australia and New Zealand in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines to Pacific Islands.
- The appointment of the new PIF Secretary General.
In line with the distribution of the vaccines, Hon Kausea said that after his discussion with the Australian Prime Minister, the distribution will be up to the decision by PIF leaders and it may be known in this retreat as well as the timeframe for the distribution.
There are about 5 Pacific Islands that have not been contracted by the virus, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue
and Tokelau and the important message for them is to continue protecting their countries to ensure the virus may not be able to enter their countries. They should not relax knowing there is now a vaccine but continue enforcing preventive measures against the virus.
In line with the appointment of the Secretary General, Hon Natano revealed that he has had discussions with Micronesian countries including the Marshall Islands that has a candidate to the post, and they always raised the issue regarding an agreement called ‘the gentlemen’s agreement’ which they claim is a binding agreement by all PIF countries.
Hon Natano revealed that there are some Forum countries who have demanded the termination of the Secretary General’s appointment but there are also other countries who would like the Incumbent Secretary general to continue until the new Secretary general is appointed and after their handing over.
So as a result, the current Secretary General will continue serving until her successor has been appointed and their handing over has also been completed.
Hon Natano said that he has reminded the Micronesia countries that this agreement is not binding and is not written in the Forum’s policies, but he suggested to them to bring up the issue to be included in the Forum’s bye laws. Some Forum leaders agreed that this gentlemen’s agreement is not binding.
“Many of the Pacific leaders are new and a few are continuing leaders and he doubts whether this issue can be resolved in this retreat or not,” said Hon Natano.
There are five candidates who have applied for the position of Secretary General, one from the Marshall Islands representing the Micronesia countries, a Tongan, a Solomon Islander, a Cook Islander and a Fijian.
“Our main issues are the impacts of climate change and the sea level rise which is also a concern of the other low-lying Pacific Islands and other countries of the world. If there is an opportunity in this retreat, it will be brought up for discussion and specially to secure funding assistance,” said Hon Natano.
The next Forum will depend on the leaders as last year should have been held in Vanuatu but because of the COVID-10 virus it was cancelled and the leader agreed that Tuvalu should continue to chair the Forum. The 2021 Forum should be held in Fiji and it depends on the leaders whether they would like to come to meet in Fiji or not because of the pandemic. This issue can be discussed in this week’s retreat and if it is not possible for Fiji to host, Tuvalu may continue the chairmanship.