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New Zealand to try and heal Pacific Island Forum rift as PNG calls for change

The future of the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) in its current state remains in limbo however the New Zealand Government has pledged to work with other forum members over the next twelve months in an attempt to rebuild trust with Micronesian countries.

The leading regional body was fractured earlier this year when the five Micronesian members announced they would be leaving the forum.

Their announcement came after a disagreement over the forum’s top post, with the Micronesian leaders claiming former Cook Islands prime minister Henry Puna’s election as secretary-general broke a “gentlemen’s agreement”.

“There is no real value in participating in an organisation that does not respect established agreements, including the gentlemen’s agreement on sub-regional rotation,” the leaders said in a communiqué.

“The Micronesian presidents look forward to strengthening the work of subregional organisations including the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit.”

In a virtual meeting in April, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape, Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, then Samoa prime minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele and Puna’s predecessor Dame Meg Taylor offered their apologies to Micronesian leaders, expressing their regret and acknowledged that the situation could have been managed differently.

However New Zealand High Commissioner to PNG Phillip Taula says his country will try and find a way through the impasse.

He told The Pacific Advocate that New Zealand “understands that it will take 12 months to formalise Micronesia’s intentions to leave the forum.

“During this time, we will be working with other forum members to rebuild Micronesia’s confidence in the organisation and ensure Micronesia feels there is value in continued membership and partnership.”

He said that what confronts the Pacific nations as a region is far greater than our differences.

“We hope we can find a way through the current fragmentation and come together as the ‘Blue Pacific’ family to tackle critical issues.

“New Zealand greatly values Micronesia’s advocacy within the forum to advance our collective interests on issues such as climate change, oceans and sea level rise.”

Mr Taula called for a “substantive discussion between leaders on how Micronesia’s concerns can be addressed,” and said this was “a moment for leadership from the Pacific to address the common issues that can unify our Pacific family.”

PIF secretariat refused to comment on recent questions raised by The Pacific Advocate regarding the matter and the way forward, however PNG prime minister James Marape called for the PIF to “immediately review its charter and processes to ensure it is relevant” to matters concerning all forum members.

“My strong view is for the secretary-general’s position to be rotated among the three sub-regions (Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia) for a four-year term, non-contestable upon expiry,” Mr Marape said, adding that he believed this would strike a balance in terms of fair representation and composition of PIF.

He said he would be putting forward proposals to ensure all voices were heard.

In the meantime, he appealed to the Micronesian group to remain with the PIF, “while we collectively work to reform it to ensure all members’ rights are respected and preserved in the true ‘Pacific Way’.”

The PIF has never had a Micronesian as the secretary-general, and the 18-member forum is facing a watershed moment given it will be reduced to only 13 members if the five Micronesian states stand by their decision to leave the forum.

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