5 Sep 2022

Pacific news in brief for September 5

10:26 am on 5 September 2022

Shipping costs hitting French Polynesia, Marianas sinkhole was ex-War storage tank, and Samoan official found guilty by court

Remoteness a factor in rising prices says territory minister

French Polynesia's economics minister says the territory's remoteness is a big factor in driving up inflation as transport costs have soared.

Yvonnick Raffin

Photo: Supplied

Yvonnick Raffin (right) said the shipping costs for goods from Asia have doubled since 2019, while French Polynesia's dependence on imports has remained unchanged.

Latest figures show the annual inflation rate has risen to 6.9 percent, which is higher than in mainland France.

Fuel prices have more than doubled since last year, but Raffin said a $US700 million stabilisation fund for 2022 has allowed the litre price to be left unchanged between February and July.

To cushion the impact of inflation, Raffin said 50 products are now exempted from any tax and levies.

Marianas sinkhole was wartime storage stank

The Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC) in the Northern Marianas has concluded that the suspected sinkhole that appeared suddenly last week was an underground structure that collapsed.

The CUC said it conducted a preliminary assessment of the sinkhole at its wastewater facility using unmanned aerial vehicles.

With the vehicles, they were able to determine the depression was not a geological sinkhole, but caused by the structural collapse of a portion of a World War II-era underground water storage tank.

The utility company said the underground water tank dates back to World War II and its collapse may or may not have been caused by the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that shook Saipan earlier.

CUC said it has temporarily relocated all impacted staff to alternative operating areas as a result of the incident to ensure their safety and continues to provide uninterrupted power, water and wastewater services to its customers.

Suspended Samoan official found guilty of narcotics, firearms charges

The Samoa Supreme Court has found suspended Assistant Electoral Commissioner, Afualo Daryl Mapu, guilty of possession of narcotics and an unlawful firearm.

The Samoa Observer reports Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren found co-defendant and fellow work associate Marie Fanueli not guilty of all charges against her.

In handing down her decision on Friday, Justice Tafaoimalo said she found Afualo's evidence was not credible and she believed he and a key witness had collaborated on the case while in custody.

Both defendants were jointly charged with six charges of possession of narcotics, namely methamphetamine weighing 1.6g, and possession of utensils.

The charges also included possession of an unlawful weapon, illegal firearms and unlawful ammunitions.

Both Afualo and Fanueli had pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Justice Tafaoimalo concluded she was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Afualo was in possession of the narcotics, firearms and ammunitions being the subject of the six charges.

The charges were made following a police raid at Afualo's home in Nuu-fou on December 28, 2021 where police conducted a search for firearms.

Afualo will be sentenced on October 14 and remains on bail until his sentencing.

New Caledonia decolonisation to be audited

France will take stock of New Caledonia's decolonisation in an audit, to help prepare a new institutional framework for the territory.

New Caledonia has been on the UN decolonisation list since 1986, based on the Kanak people's internationally recognised right to self-determination.

Roch Wamytan remains Congress president

Roch Wamytan Photo: supplied Congress FB

However, a 30-year process, which has included three referendums under the 1998 Noumea Accord, has failed to give New Caledonia its independence.

In all three referendums on independence from France between 2018 and 2021, the electorate rejected independence, but Kanaks boycotted the final vote because of the devastating impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A senior French High Commission official, Remi Bastille, said the audit will help discussions on the institutional future, as the French government announced plans last year to submit a new statute for New Caledonia to a vote in June 2023.

He said the outcomes of the three referendums are not the culmination of the decolonisation process.

A senior pro-independence politician Roch Wamytan said for his side, the only reference points are the texts of the United Nations which listed New Caledonia as a territory to be decolonised.

Later this month, the French government plans to hold talks in Paris with the signatories to the Noumea Accord but the pro-independence parties have said they will not attend.

Tahitian Village project back on

The French Polynesian government will make a fresh attempt to relaunch the Tahitian Village tourism project after years of setbacks and downgrades.

From Tuesday, it will accept new tenders to develop the site in Punaauia, after reducing the project's area by almost 20 hectares.

Potential investors pulled out of the previous effort, in part because of the impact of the covid pandemic.

In 2014, the site was earmarked for a $US3 billion tourism development, to be known as Mahana Beach.

It was meant to double visitor numbers following a decade of decline and then stagnation, but the initial project was abandoned over funding problems.

A scaled down successor project on the same site, named Tahitian Village, failed three years ago when a New Zealand consortium Kaitiaki Tagaloa missed three deadlines to finalise contracts worth $US700 million to build accommodation.