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Reports on SG Puna stepping down ‘premature and puzzling’

Wednesday 16 February 2022 | Written by CI News Staff | Published in National, Politics, Regional

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Reports on SG Puna stepping down ‘premature and puzzling’
Prime Minister Mark Brown with former prime minister and Manihiki MP Henry Puna. Photo: SUPPLIED/20061610

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown says any discussions relating to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna stepping aside are “premature and puzzling”.

On Monday, it was revealed that Puna, the former Cook Islands prime minister, is leaving the post in June after just 18 months, in order to stop the key regional diplomatic body from splitting. 

Cook Islands nominated Puna for the top regional role.

PM Brown in a statement said: “The Cook Islands is aware that media reports and statements are circulating that the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna is to step down before June 2022 purportedly as part of an undertaking between Micronesia and other Forum Members.”

Brown understands that no such arrangement has been agreed by the Forum Members and any discussions relating to SG Puna stepping aside would need to involve the Cook Islands.

He confirmed he had not participated in any discussions with the chair, Micronesia or any other Pacific Leaders relating to SG Puna stepping down.

“It is disappointing that such a proposal has been disclosed via the media without prior consultation with the Cook Islands and fellow Pacific leaders,” PM Brown said.

“The Cook Islands remains committed to the decision made by Leaders in 2021.”

Any decision for SG Puna to step aside would need careful consideration and assent by the Cook Islands Government before being put forward to all Forum Leaders, Brown said.

“This process has not happened so we are unsure of what undertakings have been proposed to Micronesia at this juncture.”

The Cook Islands current position is that the non-Micronesian Leaders in the Forum submitted a reform package to Micronesia last year and non-Micronesian Leaders are waiting an official response to this before determining next steps. “Until we receive notification from the Chair on the status of this proposal, any discussions relating to the SG stepping aside are premature and puzzling. The Cook Islands looks forward to working with the Chair and all Leaders in resolving the current impasse.”

The results of a bitter leadership contest held last year which saw Puna narrowly defeat Micronesia’s candidate, Gerard Zackios had threatened to shatter the Forum.

The five northern Pacific states, Palau, Nauru, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, vowed early last year to pull out of the organisation.

Last week president of the Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo, announced the move had been paused until June, with the expectation that Puna would “step down”.

Panuelo said the decision had been made in agreement with other members at the Micronesian President's Summit which was held last Friday.