PIF Chairman Bainimarama Positive Despite Kiribati Withdrawal Move

The Micronesians had earlier threatened withdrawal from PIF because they felt it was their turn to hold the post which went to former Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna from Polynesia.
12 Jul 2022 11:15
PIF Chairman Bainimarama Positive Despite Kiribati Withdrawal Move
Pacific Islands Forum Chair and Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama with Secretary-General Henry Puna on July 11, 2022. Photo: Leon Lord

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama started on a positive note yesterday when he addressed the Pacific Islands Forum despite not being able to speak to Kiribati President Taneti Maamau.

Late yesterday, his team was still trying to reach Mr Maamau who had stayed away from the PIF’s meeting in protest.

Mr Bainimarama said he was still not able to speak with him.

The urgency to contact Mr Maamau comes after a letter was received by the Secretary-General of the Forum, Henry Puna, last Saturday, (July 9). It outlined Kiribati’s inability to participate at the 51st Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting and why they would not support the Suva Agreement.

Mr Maamau said Kiribati did not sign that agreement last month.

The agreement, signed by leaders of Micronesias, Polynesia and Melanesia, resolved a dispute over PIF’s top job, the Secretary-General’s post.

The Micronesians had earlier threatened withdrawal from PIF because they felt it was their turn to hold the post which went to former Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna from Polynesia.

The reforms, as part of the deal, would rotate the post among the sub- regions.

Micronesia will fill the post when Mr Puna’s contract expires.

There will be three deputies, representing the sub-regions.

A new post of Ocean Commissioner will be created.

At the moment it is part of Mr Puna’s designation.

Mr Bainimarama said he could not comment on the Kiribati issue until he had spoken with Mr Maamau.

Mr Puna remained mum on the issue last night.

Meanwhile, other Pacific Island leaders shared their thoughts on the issue.



Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Penny Wong said Kiribati remained an important member of the Forum and Australia was actively supporting Fiji’s efforts to find a pathway towards reconciliation.

Senator Wong arrives in Fiji today with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

She said: “Now more than ever we need a united Pacific.”

She said the challenges of climate change, COVID-19 and strategic contests were best faced together.

“The Pacific Family is stronger together.”



Palau president Surangel Whipps Jr said the ratification of the Suva Agreement would show Kiribati that they were moving in the right direction.

Palau is part of the Micronesian bloc alongside Kiribati, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Islands.

Mr Whipps Jr said: “I think what’s important is that in this meeting we ratify this agreement and show the good faith, show that there is trust and that we can work together as a Pacific.

“Hopefully our friends from Kiribati will see the direction that we will move, that the Forum is moving and will be move forward as a stronger Pacific.”

In his letter, Mr Maamau wrote that Kiribati was concerned by their collective inability and to some degree, their reluctance as a region to address the core concerns outlined in the ‘Gentlemen’s’ agreement’.

He said that for Kiribati, this was a matter of principle and one that touched on the need for equity, equality and the inclusiveness of all members.

Secondly, Kiribati was concerned by the decision to forgo the opportunity to genuinely discuss the appointment and tenure of the incumbent S-G without Kiribati’s involvement.
He further added that he respected the decision of individual members of the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit (MPS) in regards to their return to the PIF and acceptance of the Suva Agreement.

However, he added that: “I wish to also affirm that there was never a MPS caucus decision on the PIF reform packages that Kiribati was part of, and particularly an MPS collective decision to return to the PIF. This is the third reason why Kiribati has chosen to maintain the stance outlined in the Mekreos Communique and to ensure that the value and mutual respect is accorded to all members of our Pacific family.”

The Palau president was in Fiji last month to find a way forward after the Micronesian bloc was close to withdrawing from the Forum.

Mr Whipps Jr is optimistic that the Suva Agreement that the leaders came up with would move them in the right direction of keeping the Pacific together, recognising the challenges and move forward.

“What’s most important with what we have been doing is trying to find a way to bring everybody together to work together as a Pacific.”

He said it was unfortunate they have not sat with Kiribati and talked.

He said they were hoping Kiribati would be at the Forum meeting, but they have not been able to make contact with them.



Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe said they were quite saddened about the decision made by Kiribati to withdraw from the forum.

“It came as a surprise to me and all other members as well. Obviously there is no going back from here, now it is looking closely at the issues that Kiribati has raised and finding a solution.”

He said the Pacific way was to always find a way to sit down and have frank discussions to reach consensus among the family of nations.

“It will be up to the leaders this week to discuss the issue.”



Rev. James Bhagwan, General Secretary – Pacific Conference of Churches said Kiribati was expressing its sovereign right and there were still a number of other regional agencies that Kiribati was still a part of.

“What we need to do is also give some space and time to our leaders. It’s been a tough few years, leaders have not been able to meet physically since 2019. We have new leadership; we have new and emerging issues on the table.”

He said time must be given to the leaders and space to reflect and discuss the way forward.

“We as the Pacific Conference of Churches, we ask for our Pacific people to uphold theForum, the leaders Kiribati, its president and its people in our prayers, and be with them in this journey. I think that’s the most important thing we need to allow processes and conversations to take place.”

He added that if anyone read the letter from Kiribati President that was leaked or released, it showed that they still hold the Pacific in their heart, they still considered themselves a Pacific Island country.

Last night, Kiribati’s flag flew high at the meeting venue despite their intention to



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