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Wednesday 8 November 2023 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in 52nd Pacific Islands Forum 2023, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, National, Nauru, Palau, Regional


Micronesian leaders hold firm on Waqa’s nomination for SG role
Palau president Surangel S. Whipps Jr in Rarotonga. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU / 23110770

Micronesian leaders maintain their support for the nomination of controversial former Nauru president Baron Waqa as the next Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr told Cook Islands News that the Micronesian leaders reaffirmed their commitment during the Micronesian Presidential Summit held at the Nautilus Resort in Rarotonga on Monday.

They relooked at the Suva Agreement, which stipulates that current Secretary-General Henry Puna will continue in his role until next year, at which point the designated Micronesian candidate will assume the position.

The agreement envisions rotating the leadership role among the three sub-regions: Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. It also calls for the establishment of a new Pacific Islands Forum office in a Micronesian country and the relocation of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner position to Micronesia.

President Whipps Jr emphasised that the nomination of Baron Waqa aligns with the agreement reached at the Micronesian Presidents meeting in Pohnpei in February, which was subsequently submitted to the Pacific Islands Forum during a meeting in Fiji.

“The PIF agreed to it,” he reaffirmed.

“I believe yesterday’s (Monday’s) discussion at the Micronesian Presidential Summit is merely the implementation of the Suva Agreement, which encompasses the SG, the Office of the (Pacific Ocean) Commissioner, the regional office, and all other elements,” he added.

Head of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka acknowledged that discussions regarding Baron Waqa as the incoming Secretary-General have taken place in the corridors of the Forum meeting and previous gatherings.

Rabuka stated, “We would like to consider the historical context of our current situation. I had to engage in negotiations with the country of Micronesia, Kiribati. We brought back the president, and Kiribati cooperated with us. Similarly, Micronesia cooperated with us.”

“We must also consider their interests as well as past practices. What transpired during the last election for secretary-general? These are all factors I will need to bring to the table when considering the successor for the secretary-general.”

Pacific Islands Forum Chair Mark Brown, Prime Minister of Cook Islands, stated that they have not yet engaged in discussions on this matter.

It is understood that the leadership role will be discussed during the leaders’ retreat in Aitutaki on Thursday.

Waqa who arrived in Rarotonga for the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting on Sunday, told RNZ Pacific he was “excited”.

“We need to get everyone together. Reunited and refocused again,” Waqa said, in his first-ever interview with the media directly addressing his candidacy as the region’s top diplomat.

Waqa was a controversial figure during his time as Nauru president, for his treatment of refugees and the judiciary, while there are accusations, he received bribes in a case that remains open.

When asked what he has to say to the critics he said: “Unfounded. They’ll just want to spoil things.”

“Its (his appointment as secretary-general) already been decided,” he said, before adding “no, we leave that to the leaders”.

  • Additional reporting by RNZ