31 Oct 2020

Pacific Forum Chair proposes new approach over election of SG

8:42 am on 31 October 2020

The Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum Kausea Natano has recommended an elimination process for candidates in the election of secretary-general at the regional body.

Pacific Islands Forum chair and prime minister of Tuvalu, Kausea Natano.

Pacific Islands Forum chair and prime minister of Tuvalu, Kausea Natano. Photo: PIF

Natano is also calling on countries with candidates to work together to resolve the row over the top job at the Forum Secretariat.

The Tuvalu Prime Minister said there are options available to help members address the issue.

Papua New Guinea's Dame Meg Taylor ends her six-year tenure at the helm of the Secretariat in January.

The leaders meet in December to decide Dame Meg's successor.

There are five nominees for the position - Tongan economist Amelia Kinahoi Siamomua, former Fiji diplomat Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, former Cook Islands' prime minister Henry Puna, Marshall Islands ambassador to the United States Gerald Zackios and former head of the Pacific Community Jimmy Rodgers from the Solomon Islands.

Palau, Nauru, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands have warned they will withdraw from the Forum if their candidate (Zackios) does not get the nod as was promised to the sub-region in a 'gentlemen's agreement'.

Palauan President Tommy Remengesau Junior said last week Micronesia is adamant there was a so-called "gentlemen's agreement" - that it was Micronesia's turn to have a representative at the top of the regional organisation.

Remengesau Jr had reportedly said there would be no longer any value in being a part of the Forum if their wishes were not heard.

Gerald Zackios

Gerald Zackios Photo: Marshall Islands Journal

The gentlemen's pact

Natano said while the agreement was made outside the leaders' summit, it's important.

He was hopeful members would come to a consensus on the issue.

"It all depends on the mutual agreement between leaders with candidates to have the opportunity to discuss amongst themselves how they will approach the appointment of the secretary-general."

Natano said an elimination process could see help where at the end of deliberations, leaders of the remaining two candidates could discuss between them who should be selected.

"The options have been sent out to the leaders," he said.

A communique was signed this month by President Remengesau Jr, Nauru President Lionel Aingimea, Kiribati President Taneti Maamau, FSM President David Panuelo and Marshall Islands President David Kabua.

They reiterated their firm commitment to the appointment of their candidate, Gerald Zackios.

The leaders had rejected a call by Tuvalu in June to postpone the election due to the global health emergency.

The joint statement said while the Covid-19 pandemic had challenged the Pacific nations, there was a need to find innovative ways for the Secretariat to "remain the region's premier dynamic organisation".

"The pandemic is not a good enough reason to postpone the appointment of a new SG.

"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 Forum Leaders' Retreat this year."

Natano said he was hopeful the leaders could address the concerns raised by the Palaun leader.

The President of Palau Tommy Remengesau Jr.

The President of Palau Tommy Remengesau Jr. Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

Pacific Way is the right way: Natano

The Forum chair said the proposed selection process should be decided in the 'Pacific way'.

Natano said he's optimistic the Pacific Way will help resolve the crisis over the top job at the Forum.

"The Pacific Way is sorting out the differences and trying to maintain solidarity and agree in a peaceful way to come up with a candidate who will maintain the solidarity of Pacific island countries."

Natano said Dame Meg's appointment was held in a similar process.

He said then in 2014, Dame Meg met with all the leaders in person.

"That was an easy approach because the leaders were able to discuss with her any issues they needed.

"This year's meeting is going to be quite difficult as leaders will not get the opportunity speak with the candidates face-to-face.

"I don't know if the leaders with candidates have already started their campaign and requests to the other leaders."

Natano said if after the elimination process there is no decision on the new secretary-general, conventional methods would be sought.

These, he said, included taking the selection back to the leaders for a vote.

If there's a tie, there are options the Secretariat can adopt to make a decision, said Natano.

He confirmed the virtual leaders summit will be held from 16-18 December.

Dame Meg Taylor.

Dame Meg Taylor. Photo: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat