By Bernadette H. Carreon
Micronesian countries say they oppose a postponement of the appointment of a new Secretary-General for the Pacific Islands Forum.
The Forum chair, Tuvalu's Prime Minister, Kausea Natano, has suggested that while the covid-19 pandemic continues the appointment of the Forum Secretariat head be deferred to next year.
This year's Forum leaders summit has already been postponed until next year. But the presidents of five Micronesian countries say a virtual Forum meeting scheduled for this year should be used to select the new Secretary-General to replace incumbent, Dame Meg Taylor.
Palau's Tommy Remengesau Jr, Marshall Islands' David Kabua, Nauru's Lionel Rouwen Aingimea, Kiribati's Taneti Maamau and David Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia issued a statement.
"Regarding your recommendations that the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders postpone the decision to appoint the Secretary-General until the next face-to-face meeting of the PIF Leaders Retreat, we respectfully disagree and do not support this suggestion," the leaders said.
They also expressed strongly their position that the next Secretary General should come from Micronesia.
"In the spirit of the PIF principle of sub-regional rotation and regional solidarity, it is imperative that the Micronesian sub-region be given its due turn and timely opportunity to lead the important work of the PIFS (Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat) with its nomination of a well-qualified candidate."
In a 18 June letter, Mr Natano said that due to the "political sensitivities and complexities surrounding the appointment of the Secretary-General, postpone, the decision on the appointment to the next formal face to face, session of the Pacific Islands Forum's Retreat.
The PIF chair also said the deadline of nominees for the next Secretary-General role, which was supposed to end on June 19 should be extended until the Forum meeting in Fiji next year.
But the Micronesia leaders also disagreed, adding they do not support the extension of the deadline.
The five Forum leaders also did not agree to either extending the term of Dame Meg Taylor or the appointment of Deputy Secretary-General Filimon Manoni as Acting Secretary-General until a new one was appointed.
The leaders said although covid-19 has been very challenging to the Pacific nations, "there is a need to find innovative ways for the PIFS to remain the region's premier dynamic organization".
According to the Micronesian leaders, the pandemic is not a good enough reason to postpone the appointment of a new secretary-general.
"This pandemic must not prevent us from continuing to address important priorities of the region, even if decision making methods are exceptional.
"There is no valid reason why Forum Leaders' cannot address and resolve the selection of the Secretary General during the Virtual Forum Leaders' Retreat this year."
In a separate letter to Mr Natano, President Remengesau said that the decision not to extend the term of Dame Meg or to appoint Mr Manoni in acting capacity "will not be construed in any way as inconsistent with the high regard we accords these leaders".
While the Cook Islands prime minister Henry Puna is the latest to announce his candidacy for the position, the Micronesian countries are standing by their nomination, Marshall Islands diplomat Gerald Zackios, which was made in September 2019.
Mr Remengesau said the June 19 deadline should be honoured at the same time he requested the PIF chair to provide a legal and procedural basis for the proposal for an extension to the deadline.