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Kiribati reportedly returning to the Pacific Islands Forum

Monday 30 January 2023 | Written by RNZ | Published in Kiribati, Regional


Kiribati reportedly returning  to the Pacific Islands Forum
Fiji prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka, left, with Kiribati President Taneti Maamau Photo: Makereta Komai/PINA/23013015

Forum Chair, the Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, said his office has received a letter confirming this intention from the Kiribati President, Taneti Maamau.

Rabuka visited Kiribati just over a week ago, on his first official overseas visit since taking office.

At the time he said bringing Kiribati back into the Forum was the visit's overall objective.

Kiribati left the group in July last year when Maamau refused to attend the annual Leaders' gathering in Suva due to what he claimed was failure by the PIF to address concerns of equity, equality and inclusiveness in a number of key decisions including the appointment of the current Secretary General.

Rabuka told The Islands Business most of the technical work to restore Kiribati's membership will be done by the Forum and Fiji's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Forum leaders are due to meet in Fiji in March, ahead of the full PIF meeting in the Cook Islands later this year.

The PIF's other Micronesian members, Nauru, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia cancelled their projected withdrawals following negotiation of the Suva Agreement, which will bring major changes to the appointment of the Forum's leadership, particularly the Secretary General, and relocate some offices to the northern Pacific.

That agreement is yet to be inked by all parties and the Micronesian Presidents' Summit will likely meet before the March meeting.

“Hopefully we'll get the Micronesian bloc talking among themselves about the other things that they had asked for, asked the Forum Chair to consider. that will have to be taken back to them,” Rabuka said.

He traces some of the present difficulties within the Forum back to historical divisions, particularly after the 2006 coup in Fiji.

“Unfortunately, 2006 recreated some sense of discomfort and unease in the relationship amongst leaders and I think it also led to the establishment of the PIDF, particularly when the difficulty of relationship, the absence of the Pacific-type relationship between Fiji and Australia and New Zealand.”

Rabuka said Fiji was more sympathetic to another type of organisation that didn't rely too much on Australia and New Zealand.

“Since that was started there has been a sense of 'ok, now we have got rid of the two big boys. Is Fiji now going to be a big boy of the rest?' And that could have led, I do not know yet, but from observation, it could have led to the uneasy feelings of the smaller island states and probably gave rise to the discomfort felt by the Micronesian states and all they needed was a trigger.”

The Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), which is headquartered in Suva, was established in 2012 and works on renewable energies, and climate responses, amongst other priorities.