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Don’t underestimate this man

Friday 9 September 2016 | Published in Regional

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PACIFIC VIEWPOINT

By Barbara Dreaver

TV One News

Back in 2009, the Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi drove a major change on his nation’s roads.

Drivers switched from driving one side of the road to the other ditching the American right way in favour of the kiwi left.

Amidst the protests and gloomy predictions of numerous traffic accidents, he argued his people could import cheap cars from New Zealand instead of the expensive imported beasts from the US.

That’s not all that changed. Two years later, in a jaw dropping move, he decided the dateline should be changed. Clocks went forward 24 hours in keeping with New Zealand time for business reasons, he said. Both initiatives have been successful.

A controversial, stubborn and in some ways dictatorial figure, Tuilaepa is also a strong leader.

Love him or hate him, he’s strong, couldn’t give a toss what anyone thinks – and has a wicked sense of humour that has often left fellow leaders hearing well-aimed jokes at their expense.

In the lead-up to the Pacific Islands Forum in the Federated States of Micronesia, he hasn’t failed to disappoint.

As Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama once again boycotts the forum saying he wont be back until New Zealand and Australia are evicted, Tuilaepa has stepped up.

He told TV One News that he can understand why Frank Bainimarama hasn’t come.

After all, “how can he maintain a straight face and talk normally to two prime ministers when he has already made these kind of radical and unfriendly statements?”

Tuilaepa went on to say that New Zealand and Australia were founding members long before Frank Bainimarama was ever a prime minister, and will continue to be long after he is not. But then came the parting shot.

Bainimarama is sending his foreign minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in his place and Tuilaepa says he will do a great job.

He knows this as he has met him often in the region. In fact, he said, “many times I tend to forget that the minister of foreign affairs is not the prime minister.”

Fiji’s prime minister should be at the Forum. It would be better for everyone if he was. But he’s not. Life goes on.

And the absence of Fiji’s role as a leader in the region is being happily filled by Samoa and a prime minister one would be wise not to underestimate. -

Pacific leaders face up to regional issues

PACIFIC – Increasing economic returns from fisheries and responding to the effects of climate change are two of the priorities for discussion at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting which is underway in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Leaders from 16 independent and self-governing states in the region – including Australia and New Zealand – are in Pohnpei until Sunday to talk about the Forum’s “Framework for Pacific Regionalism.”

Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama has refused to attend and has sent his foreign minister in his palce.

Another key area to be discussed refers to regional concerns about human rights abuses in West Papua and issues around self-determination for the indigenous people of this Indonesia-ruled region.

The Forum Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, says West Papua remains a sensitive issue for some Pacific governments, but one that needs to be debated.

She told a pre-Forum media workshop in Pohnpei that bigger countries in the region like Australia and New Zealand realise that this issue was not going to fade away as it is very important for Pacific people.

At last year’s Forum summit in Port Moresby a decision was reached to push Indonesia to allow a fact-finding mission on West Papua.

The Forum has been criticised by civil society over the fact that after a year there’s been no movement on this front – however Dame Meg said Jakarta has indicated it would not welcome a Forum delegation, and was uncomfortable with the term “fact-finding.”

Leaders from smaller island states of the Forum met on Wednesday to talk about implementation of the recently endorsed Small Islands States Strategy.

This looks at addressing the unique challenges they face with climate change finance, air and sea transport, marine conservation, mobility and health.

The summit started with a leaders breakfast with Pacific civil society leaders who will give their take on the regional development agenda.

This was followed by a meeting of Pacific leaders of the African Caribbean Pacific group on the future of the ACP group and trade matters.

The full Leaders Plenary Session with associate members and observers was due to take place yesterday along with a dialogue with private sector representatives.

Leaders go to their special retreat tomorrow, with the Post -Forum Dialogue sessions scheduled for Sunday when Forum members meet with various partners to align development support behind policy priorities.

The prime minister of Samoa has made a commitment to seek a larger and more permanent space for civil society voices at the Forum.

Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi made the pledge to civil society heads at their official breakfast meeting with the Forum Troika, leaders who are past, present and future chairs.

The executive director of the Pacific Islands Association of NGOs says she was pleasantly surprised at the support and consensus from leaders at the breakfast.

Emele Duituturaga said having a permanent civil society space for engagement with the Forum would be beneficial for the region as a whole.

She said Tuilaepa had said he would push for a space for all 16 Forum leaders and not just the Forum chairpersons, to meet with civil society and listen to what they have to say.

“You know often they have an agenda set, the items are put before them, the atmosphere is very sterile. I think they just found the directness the robustness and hearing the diversity of issues being brought to them made them responsive and also say that this was an essential part of the meetings that they should be having.”

A New Zealand opposition Labour MP says his country has to make a much bigger effort to help the Pacific adapt to climate change.

The comments from Labour’s climate change spokesperson, Su’a William Sio, come after Oxfam called for more aid to help countries adapt to changes that are already happening.

Echoing the Oxfam report, Su’a said Pacific countries continued to struggle to access the funding supposedly available through the Green Climate Fund.

He said the rules in place made it virtually impossible for the small and vulnerable nations to access it.

Su’a asked what New Zealand would do if a major storm battered the most vulnerable nations like, Tuvalu, Kiribati, or Tokelau.

“We need to have a greater commitment and increase our commitment to the Pacific because the Pacific is sort of the canary in the coal mine,” he explained. “They are in danger and that danger in the Pacific will also impact on us.”

Su’a is also one of a group of around ten New Zealand MPs who have been calling for the international community to do more to hold Indonesia to account for restrictions and rights abuses in West Papua.

In parliament this week, he and other MPs tabled a petition calling on the government to make a number of representations on the plight of West Papuans. - RNZI