4 Jun 2021

News from around the Pacific

12:03 pm on 4 June 2021

PNG reports 247 new cases of Covid-19; students losing out at USP; less work for Cook Islands' leader; and casino developer appealing Marianas suspension

Covid cases over 16,000 in PNG

Papua New Guinea has reported 247 new confirmed cases of Covid-19.

This includes 169 cases to midday Wednesday.

The latest cases were reported in 17 provinces, with West New Britain reporting the highest of 74 cases.

The latest figures takes PNG's total number of Covid-19 cases to 16,185, while the known death toll remains at 162.

More than 9000 students at the University of the South Pacific (USP) have not been able to access over 800 courses amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the USP said.

USP campus in Fiji

USP campus in Fiji Photo: USP

The university's deputy Vice Chancellor, Jito Vanulailai, said these students did not have the technological devices needed to engage in online learning.

With more than 28,000 students registered this semester, Professor Vanualailai says the university is working with the USP students associations to assist those who need help.

"We let the council finalise their deliberations and whatever the council decides, we just have to follow. The most important thing for my office is to make sure that all our students survive this pandemic."

Last week, the governing USP Council voted to relocate the Vice Chancellor's office from Fiji to Samoa, and reinstate deported VC Pal Ahluwalia for a three-year term.

Ahluwalia and his wife were forced to leave Fiji after the government said the couple had breached the Immigration Act.

Cooks PM gives up nine portfolios

Cook Islands prime minister Mark Brown has announced a cabinet reshuffle, offloading several portfolios.

When he became prime minister in October, Mr Brown gave himself 17 portfolios.

Now, he only has eight, but these include powerful ones including foreign affairs, immigration, police and attorney general.

In a statement, Mr Brown said it was time to relinquish some portfolios to bring new blood into the pool.

In other major changes, Vaine Mokoroa takes the justice portfolio from Rose Toki Brown, who is now the internal affairs minister.

There are six cabinet ministers, but all the government's other MPs have been given assistant minister portfolios, including Akaiti Puna, who only entered parliament last week.

Casino developer appealing licence suspension

A Hong Kong-based casino developer in the Northern Marianas is appealing the "indefinite suspension" of its gaming licence before the country's Superior Court.

Imperial Pacific International is among several businesses impacted since the Marianas closed its borders in March last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

On April 22, the Commonwealth Casino Commission directed the company to pay US$6.6 million within six months, but also to pay immediately $18 million in fees.

With IPI's appeal, jurisdiction in the case is no longer with the commission as the agency can not further amend the order suspending the company's gaming licence.

Meanwhile, construction at the company's multimillion-dollar Imperial Pacific Resort has been been suspended pending the payment of arrears.

Imperial Pacific is also embroiled in dozens of lawsuits and recently lost a lawsuit against seven former construction workers from China in a $5.91-million default judgment.

The workers accused the Saipan casino and its subcontractors for various violations, including human trafficking.