12 Mar 2024

Pacific news in brief for March 12

5:22 pm on 12 March 2024
Samoa Airways Boeing 727-800 aircraft

Photo: Supplied

Samoa - airline

The Minister responsible for Samoa Airways says it is critically important to prioritise passenger safety.

Leatinu'u Wayne So'oialo told Radio Samoa one of the airline's planes has surpassed 49 years of service, while the others are aged 38 and 37.

He emphasised ensuring the safety of passengers is paramount, particularly given the crucial role the flights play in generating revenue for Samoa Airways to meet its financial obligations, including paying debt.

Leatinu'u said the maintenance costs associated with aging aircraft are getting expensive, adding it is better to invest in a new plane to mitigate these and improve overall operational efficiency.

Papua New Guinea/Bougainville - independence

Papua New Guinea's shadow minister for Bougainville affairs has cautioned the PNG government not to take the Bougainville independence ratification process lightly.

The Post-Courier newspaper reports Sir Puka Temu has urged the PNG prime minister James Marape and his Minister for Bougainville affairs, Manasseh Makiba, to convene an urgent meeting between the two governments.

Sir Puka said the government's inability to ratify the referendum results last year goes against the understanding set out in the Era Kone Covenant and the Wabag Roadmap, agreed to both governments.

He said the ratification is the responsibility of the PNG government.


Fiji's Ministry of Health has recorded 415 new cases of HIV/AIDS, from January to December 2023.

This is compared to 245 cases reported for the same period in 2022.

According to the Global AIDS Monitoring Report, Minister for Health and Medical Services Dr Atonio Lalabalavu said Fiji is now one of the two top countries in the Asia-Pacific region with rapidly rising new HIV infections.

Dr Lalabalavu said 11 of the cases are children, and three of those got HIV through sexual transmission.

He said unsafe sexual practices and the use of injectable drugs are contributing to the rise of HIV in Fiji.

The minister said they are finalising their HIV Surge Strategy.

Bougainville - copper

Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL) has appointed David Osikore as managing director and chief executive as it readies itself for a possible resumption of mining at Panguna.

The government in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region has made no secret of wanting to see BCL back in action to drive the economic development of Bougainville ahead of its hoped-for independence.

BCL, which is now majority owned by the Bougainville government, has spent the past five months preparing to move from a caretaker mode into a more operational exploration phase.

Last month, the government granted a five-year extension of BCL's exploration licence for the Panguna mine.

At that time Bougainville president Ishmael Toroama called Panguna a "high impact project for Bougainville" wilth the licence extension paving the way for redevelopment.

Northern Marianas - utilities

The Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC) has agreed to pay the US Environmental Protection Agency a fine of $108,000 for failing to fill critical vacant positions.

The amount is a discount from the $162,000 fine originally imposed by the federal regulator, but CUC conceded that it indeed failed to timely fill critical vacant positions at the utilities company.

Filling in critical vacant positions are court-mandated orders - called stipulated orders - that CUC will be penalised if critical positions are not filled within 150 days.

Acting CUC executive director Betty Terlaje said their legal counsel was actually prepared to argue the issue before US District Court for the Northern Marianas designated Judge David Carter as they believe the judge could have considered taking the fine off.

Terlaje, however, said CUC didn't want to "shake the waters," with EPA because she believes EPA has given CUC a lot of considerations.

Fiji - bailed

The Suva Magistrates' Court has placed the former Fiji supervisor of elections Mohammed Saneem under strict bail conditions.

Saneem is charged with receiving a corrupt benefit.

Local media report Magistrate Krishnan Prasad ordered the accused must not interfere with prosecution witnesses and not reoffend, and that a non-cash bond of $5,000 US dollars be placed on Mr Saneem.

The Court also ordered that Saneem surrender all travel documents and provides a fixed residential address for the Court's record.

The matter has been adjourned to 19 March for mention.

Micronesia - fellow

Former president of the Federated States of Micronesia David Panuelo will join the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Centre for Strategy and Security.

He will be a nonresident distinguished fellow affiliated with its Indo-Pacific Security Initiative.

The Atlantic Council - a think tank - said Panuelo's expertise will be instrumental in informing the Council's work on US-Pacific Islands relations and countering China's influence in the Pacific, among other issues.

Director of the Indo-Pacific Security Initiative Markus Garlauskas said Panuelo brings a unique perspective as the former top leader of a Pacific Island country.

Australia/Papua New Guinea - climate

The Australian government has committed AU$20 million towards the Climate FIRST (Climate Finance Initiative for Resilience and a Sustainable Transition) programme to assist Papua New Guinea access climate change funding of US$400m by 2028.

The Post-Courier newspaper reports the programme, launched on Monday, falls under the PNG-Australia partnership and will see the endorsement of climate finance proposals towards securing funding from international and domestic sources.

According to recent publications by the Development Policy Blog of the Australian National University, between 2013 and 2021 a total of US$1.65 billion was committed to climate change in PNG.