OFFICIALS MAKE STRONG STAND
Group Editor in Chief
Are the islands government officials now finally waking up to the fact that they have been for so long dancing to the tune of Australia and New Zealand?
That Australia particularly has been dictating the shots? That the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (ForumSec), which was set up to serve islands interests, is serving not their interests but that of Australia and New Zealand?
If last month’s Special Forum Trade Officials meeting in Brisbane and the SOPAC 38th annual session in Vanuatu are anything to go by, we can expect interesting times ahead.
For the first time, islands officials are making a stand and making it loud and clear. They are standing up to Australia and New Zealand.
Take for example the Brisbane Forum Trade Officials meeting. Sources at the meeting said the islanders took an unprecedented move by telling Forum Secretariat
officials that they didn’t want them in their meeting.
That meeting was to discuss their position before they met with Australia and New Zealand to talk about the appointment of the Chief Trade Adviser and the establishment of this office. Plus the framework for the regional PACER Plus trade negotiations, including timelines for negotiations, identification of issues and issues the adviser could negotiate.
One well connected regional political observer told LETTER FROM SUVA: “That move by the islanders is unprecedented and it shows the level of mistrust and suspicion they have of ForumSec.
The meeting was to have been attended by the new trade adviser who is the Director of Economic Governance, Dr Chakriya Bowman of Australia. But islands officials decided against it because they feared that if she and her ForumSec team were to be part of that meeting, their position could be compromised with the Australians getting a whiff of it and devising strategies to counter the Pacific move even before they met.
“This is not new…it has been the problem over the years that even before the islands met with Australia and New Zealand their positions were already known by them.”
LETTER FROM SUVA was also told that in the past some senior ForumSec officials were forced to keep close to their chest their trade negotiation strategies. This included not even disclosing it to fellow senior officials.
And that’s not all. In Vanuatu, late month, there were similar developments at the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC).
A reliable source within SOPAC told LETTER FROM SUVA that Australia and New Zealand reps at the SOPAC annual session were told in no uncertain terms: “If they don’t want to play ball with the islands, then they are not welcomed. We can find alternative funders who can take your place within SOPAC”.
The heated debate was over whether SOPAC could be able to be rationalised come January 1, 2010, as was earlier decided. The meeting was told the regional organisation needed more time before this could be done.
Under the new structure, SOPAC is to come under the Secretariat of the Pacific Commission (SPC), and this was to become effective from January 1, 2010.
During the discussions, the Australian delegate insisted the rationalisation process should proceed as planned. She threatened to pull out Australian funding totalling 4% of SOPAC’s budget, if the rationalisation process did not go ahead.
This led to one island delegate telling the Australians: “If you want to walk, walk, if you want to run, run, SOPAC will survive with or without your funding.”
This drew overwhelming support from the rest of the islands nations. It saw the status quo remaining at SOPAC for at least another year before a review is done and a report submitted before the leaders when they meet in October next year.
Need not be bullied
It is this kind of unity that has been missing from the islands for a long time. The small islands are starting to say what they mean. This is important. We are sovereign countries. We need to hold our heads high and be counted. We can’t be bulldozed and we need to break the culture of silence.
Leaders need to take heed of this. They need not be bullied and run for cover every time Australia and New Zealand open their mouths! Perhaps, other islands leaders could learn a thing or two from Fiji’s Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama. He is taking no nonsense from Canberra and Wellington and is not intimidated by them.
Maybe that’s why Australia and New Zealand are so anxious to make sure Fiji is excluded from the Pacific Islands Forum and the PACER Plus negotiations…..Article from Islands Business Magazine, November Issue, website: [http://www.islandsbusiness.com/]
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