FIJI – Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office says more than 800 homes on the island of Kadavu have sustained damage from this month’s Cyclone Keni. The NDMO Director Anare Leweniqila says 804 houses have been damaged, 201 of which were fully destroyed. Mr Leweniqila said 104 evacuation centers remain active with 803 evacuees. He said the relief and recovery phase continued in Kadavu with assessment teams to work through the 75 villages in the area by the end of the week. FBC News reported the collective cost of damage for the Western and Northern Divisions was expected to be finalised by Friday. Leweniqila said the assessment for the West and North would cover the combined disasters in relation to Cyclone Josie, Tropical Depression 13F and Cyclone Keni.
BOUGAINVILLE MP URGES 100% TURNOUT
BOUGAINVILLE – An MP in Bougainville’s autonomous regional parliament says it’s important that there is a strong, emphatic vote by Bougainvilleans in next year’s independence referendum. The Papua New Guinea autonomous region is to hold a referendum in June next year under the terms of the Bougainville Peace Agreement. PNG’s national parliament has been tasked with the final say on the referendum outcome. Rodney Osioco from Kokoda constituency said a strong majority vote would ensure Bougainvilleans’ self-determination aspirations are ultimately approved by PNG’s national parliament. “That is why the members are doing more awareness to the people that we must all fully vote one hundred percent to our aspirations so that that outcome can be rectified in the parliament, because parliament is the only legitimate authority who makes laws in the country.”
PETITION CALLS FOR ELECTION DEFERRAL
FRENCH POLYNESIA – A petition has been launched in French Polynesia in a bid to defer this month’s territorial election to remedy irregularities in the registration process. The newly-formed group Our Movement said within three days, its online petition had been signed by 2000 people. It was launched in response to obstruction by administration officials who allegedly refused to certify documents needed for candidates to stand. The new party’s leader Tevai Haumani said some of his candidates withdrew after being threatened with job losses. He said because of this interference his party couldn’t lodge its list of 73 candidates on time. Haumani had also written to the French president Emmanuel Macron asking for protection of aspiring politicians for there to be a democratic choice. Leaders of another new party list, A Ti’a Mai, also said it faced obstruction and therefore couldn’t meet the nominations deadline for the election April 22.
- IN SAMOA 59 sailors preparing to leave for work on board cargo and cruise ships in Europe have been warned not to drink alcohol. During a farewell ceremony the acting Prime Minister, Papalii Niko Lee Hang said this is the main challenge faced by local seamen now working overseas. Papalii said that the government’s zero tolerance on alcohol consumption remained and if the new group misbehaved overseas they would be sent home and no longer be considered for further service on foreign ships.
VANUATU – Britain and Vanuatu are leading a new Commonwealth initiative to fight plastic pollution in the Pacific and other oceans. The British government has committed US$88 million dollars to the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance.
The funding package is billed at helping to boost global research and assist Commonwealth countries stop plastic waste from entering the oceans in the first place.
Speaking ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London next week, PM Theresa May annnounced that New Zealand, Ghana and Sri Lanka had joined the Alliance.
Together with Vanuatu as joint chair, Britain called on other countries to pledge action on plastics.
This can include a ban on microbeads, cutting down on single-use plastic bags, or other steps to eliminate avoidable plastic waste.
Developing countries who sign up to the Alliance are eligible to bid for partnership support to improve waste management systems and implement other initiatives to reduce the plastic waste reaching oceans.
Aid spending unpopular
PACIFIC – Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells says the vast majority of Australians do not want increases in aid spending.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that 80 per cent of Australians do not support any further spending on foreign aid.
Fierravanti-Wells called for Britain to partner on infrastructure development in the Pacific. Speaking to aid agencies on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, she said the Australian aid budget will be kept at US$3 billion and would not increase until the economy was back on a sustainable footing.
Fierravanti-Wells said the government polling had exposed a “big schism” between the community and those working in the aid sector.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported the opposition Labor Party’s belief that the government’s cuts to foreign aid have allowed China to move into Australia’s backyard by showering poorer Pacific Island nations with aid and cheap development loans.
Island evacuation pending
VANUATU – A patrol boat loaded with police and mobile force personnel is being deployed to the Vanuatu island of Ambae this afternoon to help with an intended mass evacuation.
A state of emergency has been declared on the island, with the volcano at the island’s centre continuing to erupt, blanketing much of the island in ash.
A spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Office, Presley Tari, said the mass evacuation will begin once the forces arrive and establish themselves which is likely to be later on this week. The government announced last week that a mass evacuation would again take place, with people from the islands north, west and south being moved to the far east coast or nearby smaller islands.
Ambae is in Penama Province and the provincial government has secured land on the island’s east side for victims of the ongoing eruption. This comes as the central government’s ministerial task force is still yet to complete negotiations to acquire land for resettlement on either Maewo or Pentecost.
TONGA – The president of Tonga Leiti’s Association is asking for Pacific sporting role models like Israel Folau to be more socially responsible.
TONGA – Transgender women and gender-diverse ‘leitis’ in the conservative Pacific Island Kingdom of Tonga say they “cannot be silent anymore” about their fight for visibility.
Joey Joleen Mataele is one of many in Tonga’s island chain who identifies as a ‘fakaleiti’ or simply ‘leiti’, which translates roughly from Tongan as “like a lady”.
“The role of leitis in our society is more of a housewife role, a domestic worker, we’re known in the public eye in our churches and for helping the youth programmes, but when it comes to our personal choices, that’s when the barriers start going up,” she told the ABC’s Pacific Beat this week.
Mataele is the President of the Tongan Leitis Association, a group at the centre of a new documentary released at the weekend in London called Leitis in Waiting, a year-long exploration of what life is like for transgender women in Tonga.
“It’s been years of dreaming that our story would be recorded and be distributed to the world,” she said.
“I think this is a great achievement for us to be able to do this. And it’s a tool that we will be able to use.”
Mataele’s father was a politician and a member of Tonga’s elite, and her family has a close relationship with the country’s royal family.
In the documentary, Tonga’s Princess Salote Lupepau‘u Tuita describes her mother’s relationship with Mataele when he was a baby.
“One memory my mother has is of when Joey was a toddler and he had very, very feminine features and really, really curly hair.
“So my mother had a life-sized doll as well and she said, ‘you’re prettier than my doll’ – so she put the dress of her life-sized doll on Joey and put his hair in ringlets and would take him around.
“It wasn’t to mock him or anything, she just loved it. Since then, he’s always been that special and close to her.”
Yet despite her connections in the upper echelons of Tongan society, Mataele’s place within the community remains a struggle.
While in some cases leitis are accepted as caretakers and workers, they are also outlawed, shunned and even face jail time.
Tonga’s Civil Offences Act criminalises cross dressing and sodomy, with both carrying jail terms of up to 10 years.
Mataele said people in Tonga remain uncomfortable talking about the issue.
“I think it’s time to talk about it, we cannot be silent any more, I mean if we keep silent about this, it’s not healthy, it’s not mentally and physically healthy for all of us,” she said.
Leitis in Waiting culminates with a meeting organised by the Tongan Leitis Association, where the group publicly push for decriminalisation for the first time.
The documentary’s director and producer, Joe Wilson, said the dichotomy of Tonga’s identity is part of what drew him to the story of the leitis.
“It is probably the most religious country I’ve ever been to, which makes the story of how you work for change when it comes to how LGBT people are viewed very interesting and very challenging.
“But also very hopeful because in this case the Tongan leiti community is also very well integrated into their church communities,” Wilson told Pacific Beat.
“So they’re accepted on some levels but not on other levels.”
The push for decriminalisation and the rising public presence of the leitis comes at a time of heightened religious tension in the country, with American-funded elevangelists fuelling a new campaign against the LGBT community in Tonga.
“It’s creating an ugly division that I don’t think had really existed in Tonga prior to the emergence of this kind of approach,” Wilson said.
But Mataele continues to be an avid church-goer and won’t be swayed from either her faith or her gender identity.
“The more they preach against us, it doesn’t really make me angry, it actually makes us all a stronger person,” Mataele said.
“At the end of the day it’s just a small island. You cannot move without anybody noticing and if they think they can move us out to little secluded islands, because of our sexual orientation or gender identity, I think they need to wake up.”
In London for the premiere, Mataele was awarded a Commonwealth Points of Light Award – an honour given by the British Government and endorsed by the Queen of England.
The award commended her for, “using song, humour and dance to promote issues which affect the transgender community”.
While the award is not recognised in Tonga, Mataele said she dedicated it to everyone who had helped “fight this fight”.
The new documentary is to tour worldwide.
PACIFIC – There is a call for Pacific nations to maintain a leading role in reducing greenhouse emissions from the shipping industry.
Wallabies star Israel Folau has revealed he offered to walk away from his Rugby Australia contract in the wake of his controversial comments on homosexuality and that tension remains with the game’s administration over the issue.
TONGA – A former prime minister has hit back at allegations made last week by Tonga’s current prime minister that political reforms were made in 2010 without the approval of parliament.