30 Apr 2010

Forum secretariat says time not right to discuss impact of Fiji's suspension

12:50 pm on 30 April 2010

The Suva-based secretariat of the Pacific Islands Forum has declined to say whether Fiji's year-long suspension from the Forum has had an impact on its operations.

On May the 1st last year, Fiji was suspended because its interim regime, formed after the 2006 military coup, refused to make any commitment to surrender power to an elected government by the end of 2009.

The secretariat, whose work is funded by the region's taxpayers, says it has decided that the time is not right for it to discuss publicly questions pertaining to its operation.

Australia, which is the Forum chair, in turn says matters relating to the functioning of the secretariat are for the secretariat itself to address.

A spokesperson for the Australian prime minister says the government is not concerned about economic activity generated by the secretariat benefiting the people of Fiji.

The Fiji interim government says the presence of the secretariat in Suva is not relevant since Fiji is suspended from the agency.

Samoa's prime minister says the secretariat should be moved from Suva, saying it's ridiculous for a body standing for democracy is based in a country run by a dictatorship.

An Auckland University academic, Dr Steven Ratuva, says the suspension did allow the Forum for the first time to exert a moral authority over its members, but he says there have been other more far reaching consequences.

"It has fragmented the Forum much more. They have the Melanesian Spearhead Group which is mobilising around Fiji. They have various fault lines within the Pacific Islands' solidarity. For a long time the Pacific Islands Forum has been based on consensus - I think consensus is beginning to see fractures right at the middle."

And Dr Ratuva says the suspension has altered the region's geopolitical dynamics with Fiji intensifying its Look North policy towards China and away from Australia and New Zealand.