12 Nov 2023

'We're not judges': Pacific Islands Forum leaders confirm Baron Waqa is secretary-general

12:41 pm on 12 November 2023
Former Nauru president Baron Waqa arrives in Rarotonga for the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum from 6-10 November 2023.

Former Nauru president Baron Waqa arrives in Rarotonga for the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum from 6-10 November 2023. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Lydia Lewis

Pacific Islands Forum leaders have emerged from their retreat on Aitutaki with their outcomes document, confirming controversial ex-Nauru president Baron Waqa as the regional organisation's new top diplomat.

The entire Nauru delegation, led by newly elected President David Adeang and Waqa, departed the Cook Islands just 24 hours after he walked out of a plenary meeting at the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Rarotonga.

RNZ Pacific understands Nauru's sudden exit came after questions were raised about the process to nominate Waqa to become the next secretary-general of the Forum.

When asked by RNZ Pacific if there were concerns raised by leaders around Waqa's track record as a 'controversial' leader during his time in power, which has been a sticking point at the meeting, Fiji PM Sitiveni Rabuka said: "Who judged Waqa as a controversial figure?"

"As far as we're concerned, we're not judges," Rabuka said.

"We received the nomination and it was part of bringing back Micronesia earlier on. I had to fly to Kiribati to talk to our our colleagues and bring back Micronesia, make sure they will continue to be members of the Pacific community.

"I inherited a fractured Pacific Forum. We mended the fracture, we he brought it in and a lot of those things have caused a fracture or the sprain whatever you want to call it at the beginning of my term as prime minister have been ironed."

The leaders have also welcomed the implementation plan for the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific - their blue-print for Pacific led development

Mark Brown announcing the final outcomes in Aitutaki.

Mark Brown announcing the final outcomes in Aitutaki. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Lydia Lewis

Forum chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said the implementation plan "articulates the specific goals, outcomes and regional collective actions across the thematic areas of our 2050 strategy".

"We also endorsed the Pacific Partnerships for Prosperity as a political prioritisation process to mobilise resources and to empower our specific people to bring about transformational change through national and regional development," he said.

On climate change, the leaders committed to implementing the Paris Agreement and endorsed the creation of a Pacific Resilience Facility, which will be a "landmark" Pacific lead and managed resilience finance facility.

"We will be now looking to take this particular facility out to potential donors and contributors to this fund," Brown said.

The leaders also endorsed the regional Framework on climate mobility, which Brown said "is a Pacific Partnerships for Prosperity priority", noting that more than 50,000 Pacific people are displaced every year due to climate and disaster related events.

There were discussions also on the Fukushima wastewater discharge leaders recalled the concern voiced about the exercise and noted the ongoing monitoring of the discharge by Japan and the IAEA.

On keeping the region nuclear free, leaders promoted the full compliance of the Rarotonga Treaty by all members.

The Forum leaders emphasised that securing legal certainty of the Blue Pacific in the face of the threats of climate change, the declaration on the continuity of statehood and the protection of persons affected by climate change related to sea level rise, as well as looked at looked at revitalising the Pacific leaders gender equality declaration.

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