Papua New Guinea has been accused in the Fiji Sun of “betraying” Fiji by reneging on support for Kaliopate Tavola, the Fijian candidate, for what many consider the top regional job – Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. Instead, former World Bank official Dame Meg Taylor of Papua New Guinea became the first woman chosen to take on the post. Here is a Solomon Islands academic’s view.
Comment – By Tarcisius Kabutaulaka
An article, which appeared on the front page of the Fiji Sun, accusing Papua New Guinea of “betrayal” , is an interesting and insightful reaction to the election of Dame Meg Taylor as the Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS).
Here are a couple of observations: First, while the piece is presented as “news” and carried on the Fiji Sun’s front page, it is actually not “news”.
It is an opinion piece – journalist Nemani Delaibatiki’s opinion.
Perhaps, it might reflect a dominant opinion among Fiji officials. But, there was no official statement from the Fiji government expressing this.
Delaibatiki has taken upon himself to represent Fiji, or, someone in the echelons of power in the Fiji government.
Second, Fiji is suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). I am therefore surprised that they field a candidate for the head of the PIF Secretariat and expect him to win.
I have a lot of respect for Kaliopate Tavola. He is a wonderful person and a great public servant and diplomat who has contributed enormously to Fiji and the region.
Not right time
But, this is not the time to field his name as a candidate for this top regional position. Fiji should have waited until its suspension is lifted.
Third, while the MSG might have agreed to a candidate, the MSG as an institution is, technically, not a member of the PIF. It is the individual countries that are members.
Papua New Guinea therefore has the sovereign right to field a PNG candidate, rather than an MSG candidate.
Fourth, yes, this could potentially cause tensions and splits in the MSG, but Fiji has more to lose from leaving the MSG. Papua New Guinea investments in Fiji are worth millions (possibly billions) of dollar. This includes – but not restricted to – the Lamana Development Company Ltd. investments with the Grand Pacific Hotel, the Mineral Resources Development Company (MRDC) investments in the Pearl South Pacific (Fiji) hotel at the Pacific Habour, and Bank South Pacific (BSP).
Of course, these are private business investments. But, the MSG has greased these investments.
Papua New Guinea is also a huge market for Fiji products like corned beef. PNG has a population of more than 7 million people. That’s about 75 percent of the total Pacific Islands population, providing a major market – both potential and real.
Fifth, when Australia and New Zealand abandoned Fiji, it was PNG that rallied the MSG to support Fiji. It backed that by giving Fiji US$10 million (25 million kina) to support its preparation for the planned September elections.
Papua New Guinea promises to give Fiji another US$10 million in 2015, following the elections.
Sixth, the call for PNG to “clean up its own backyard first” is amusing, especially coming from a country that has had a string of coups since 1987.
Yes, Papua New Guinea has a lot of social, governance and economic challenges. They are bigger because PNG is a bigger and socially complex country. But, it should be noted that a lot of other Pacific Island countries have lots of challenges as well.
Fiji’s governance challenges are well known. All these aside, and with due respect to the other candidates who contested for the head of the PIF Secretariat, I think Dame Meg Taylor was the right choice.
And for the record, Dame Taylor is not just any “former World Bank employee”. She is a respected international public servant and diplomat who has, not only Papua New Guinea, but the Pacific Islands at heart.
She is a very capable person who would have fared well as a candidate to head the PIF Secretariat even if PNG hadn’t given development assistance to Pacific Island countries.
I look forward to a vibrant and progressive PIF Secretariat. It is in dire need for a good boost.
Tarcisius Kabutaulaka is an associate professor in the Centre for Pacific Island Studies at the University of Hawai’i. He is a Solomon Islander and this is a personal view circulated among colleagues. Pacific Scoop publishes this with his permission.