27 Apr 2021

In brief: News from around the Pacific

3:34 pm on 27 April 2021

PNG confirms over 100 Covid-19 deaths, Samoa secures six Chinese pathologists to clear backlog, Cook Islands has a new Police Commissioner, and more.

Covid-19 health screening at the Jackson International Airport in Port Moresby.

Covid-19 health screening at the Jackson International Airport in Port Moresby. Photo: PNG Department of Health

PNG records over 100 Covid-19 deaths.

Papua New Guinea has recorded three new Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, increasing the death toll to 105.

In the last 24 hours, 166 cases were reported from 23 districts in 14 provinces, increasing the national confirmed Covid-19 cases to 10,835, including the 105 deaths.

Health Officials have completed 86,619 Covid-19 tests, a total of 674 tests are pending laboratory results.

Repatriation flight for Samoan citizens overseas cancelled

The recent community Covid-19 cases in Fiji has scuttled plans for a repatriation flight for Samoan citizens from the United States.

The news of the cancellation was made by the Chairman of the National Emergency Operations Center, Agafili Shem Leo, over the weekend.

Agafili said Fiji Airways, which was to operate the flight carrying stranded Samoans including sailors from Europe, had cancelled the flight.

He did not clarify if the flight had been rescheduled or if any other plans had been made to bring these people home.

Meanwhile, he advised that the government has secured enough Covid-19 vaccines to complete the Mass Vaccination Program.

He said there are enough vaccines for everyone.

The New Zealand government has offered to provide more vaccines to complete the nation-wide programme for both doses.

Samoa secures six Chinese pathologists to clear backlog

Samoa's backlog of deceased awaiting forensic examinations is set to be cleared with the arrival last week of six Chinese pathologists on a charter flight.

Newsline Samoa reports the Director General of Health, Leausa Take Naseri, said the examinations are important to determine the cause of death.

He said it has not been easy securing the services of forensic pathologists since the Covid global lockdown.

He notes that in New Zealand there are only eight forensic pathologists.

Some of the group are workers on projects already planned which includes the Police Academy, Matautu Wharf renovation and other huge projects at the hospital.

Two local government officials in Vanuatu suspended

The Vanuatu Public Service Commission has suspended the town clerks in the country's two main towns, Port Vila and Luganville.

The clerk of Port Vila Municipal Council, Peter Sakita and his counterpart in the Luganville Municipal Council, Jonathan Iavere, were suspended yesterday.

The Daily Post reports the acting secretary of the Commission, James Melteres, confirmed the suspensions yesterday.

Mr Melteres says the clerks have both been suspended over allegations of insubordination and breaches of financial regulations.

He says the commission has 21 days to carry out an investigation, after which the two officials will have a chance to respond to the allegations.

Mr Melteres also announced that director of immigration, Jeffrey Markson, is being re-instated fronm today after receiving a final warning.

Mr Markson had been accused of selling a government vehicle; two other staff who were also allegedly involved in the same matter will be disciplined.

The Cook Islands has a new Police Commissioner

Prime Minister Mark Brown has appointed Turepu James Keenan as the new Cook Islands Police Commissioner.

He's the first Cook Islander to achieve the rank of commissioned officer in the New Zealand Police force.

Mr Keenan said he is "extremely excited and keen to return home" to take on his new role as Police Commissioner.

He is expected to begin his duties in the Cook Islands at the end of next month.

A New Zealand Police veteran of 36 years' experience, Mr Keenan is currently a shift commander rotating between Auckland Metro and the Northern Communications Centre.

American Samoa's governor vetos a bill increasing contributions to retirement fund

American Samoa's governor has vetoed a Senate bill approved by the Fono increasing the contribution rate for both government and employee to the American Samoa Government Employees Retirement Fund.

Lemanu Peleti Mauga's action was outlined in a letter to Fono leaders, who were informed of the two reasons behind rejecting the measure, which lawmakers have said would cover the shortfall in payouts from the Fund every year.

According to the governor, the bill does not identify a funding source for the increase in the government contribution and, in addition, the raise in government and employee contributions "are too high".

He recommended a one-percent increase for the Government contribution and also a one-percent increase for the Members' contribution.

Flying Fijians to meet Wales

The Flying Fijians will face Wales in Cardiff during their end of year rugby tour to the Northern Hemisphere.

Six Nations champions Wales, who are coached by former Fiji boss Wayne Pivac, have announced a busy home schedule for the autumn internationals, with Tri Nations champions New Zealand, World Cup winners South Africa and Australia also scheduled to run out at the Principality Stadium.

Fiji will face Wales on November the 14th. The teams last meeting was at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, with Wales winning 29-17.

PNG loses another judge

Papua New Guinea has lost its third Supreme Court judge in as many months.

Justice Jim Walu Tamate died at the Port Moresby General Hospital over the weekend.

The cause of death has not been made public.

The two other judges who have passed away this year are Nicholas Kirriwom and Regina Sagu.

Vanuatu health ministry rolling out broadband

The Ministry of Health in Vanuatu has begun the roll out of broadband to health clinics across the country.

It is working with Kacific Broadband Satellites Group and its service provider in Vanuatu, 3 Link Communications.

The Health Minister, Bule Melve, says they are addressing key connectivity challenges in health facilities.

He says the ministry is looking forward to seeing the real benefits for health workers and health facilities, reducing communication challenges and, importantly, maternal mortality in isolated and rural Vanuatu.

He says Kacific and 3 Link will play a key role in providing this important and timely solution to ensure all communication between health facilities improve, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The minister said "not only will we connect our health workers, but also the people of Vanuatu will have access to high-speed network during this time of Covid-19. It is a priority for my Ministry to ensure all are given access to clear and urgent information about Covid-19, which people need to know without delay."

Saipan casino has licence suspended

The gaming licence of the lone casino on Saipan in the Northern Marianas has been indefinitely suspended and its operators have been ordered to pay big fines.

Imperial Pacific has to pay $US6.6 million in penalties, as well as $US18.6 million in annual casino fees.

The Commonwealth Casino Commission board slapped the company with an indefinite suspension of its gaming licence and ordered it to pay the penalty within six months.

The penalties stem from five consolidated complaints the Casino Commission lodged against Imperial Pacific.

They include failing to pay the fees; failing to settle accounts with vendors; not complying with the minimum capital requirements and failing to contribute $US40 million community benefit fund money in 2018 and 2019, as required under the casino licence agreement.